October 25, 2014

Elyria
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Commissioners consider transit levy

ELYRIA — The Lorain County commissioners are examining whether or not to ask voters to approve a levy to fund Lorain County Transit.

The bus system has contracted drastically in recent years as the commissioners have cut funding to deal with the county’s budget woes.

County Administrator Jim Cordes said Friday that he asked the commissioners earlier in the week whether he should explore finding new ways to fund transit.

He said any funding the county can provide would be doubled with matching money from federal grants.

“We can amplify it through matching funds to a significant amount,” Cordes said.

Commissioners Tom Williams and Ted Kalo both said that transit would probably need around $400,000 per year from a levy to create a viable bus system in the county.

The county currently operates limited runs between Elyria and Lorain in addition to a bus route into downtown Cleveland that hasn’t caught on with residents as county officials had hoped.

Williams said if the commissioners do ask voters to approve a levy, it would be from property taxes. The commissioners also have the option of putting on a sales tax increase, but voters have rejected their past three efforts to do so.

A 0.25 percentage point sales tax increase would generate about $7.4 million annually, something that would generate far too much money for transit to use in a given year, the commissioners said.

Commissioner Lori Kokoski said the county could look at a sales tax increase that could provide additional funding for transit and other areas of county government such as the Lorain County Drug Task Force.

Former Commissioner Betty Blair, a strong proponent of public transportation, said she prefers the sales tax option. She said bulking up transit would increase the chances of commuter rail coming to the area.

“In order to have a viable transit we have to have money and in order to have viable commuter rail we need to have a viable transit,” Blair said.

Williams said the trick will be convincing voters to back transit because while there are people who need that service, it’s a limited population. Those riders are largely concentrated in the county’s urban core, which means that the levy might not garner much support in the outlying areas.

“The need is going to be in the city of Lorain and the city of Elyria,” he said. “The big question is will the other communities pay for the service in those two cities?”

Kalo said the commissioners have made no decisions on whether to take the issue to voters, but he believes the idea should at least be considered. There are other areas where the commissioners also have cut funding in recent years that might benefit from similar examinations, he said.

“We need money for all kinds of things,” Kalo said. “I’d entertain anything.”

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.