December 22, 2014

Elyria
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County to seek transit levy

ELYRIA — The county will put a tax issue on the May ballot in hopes of reviving its public transit system.

The commissioners voted unanimously to seek a five-year, 0.4-mill levy, which is expected to generate about $250,000 a year. If approved, voters on average would pay about $2 more a year.

“We are the ninth-biggest county in Ohio, and yet we have no dedicated source of funding for a transit system,” county Administrator Jim Cordes said. “The result is a pitiful mass transit system … we need to get back in the game or get out of it.”

The levy would be the first for Lorain County Transit in more than 20 years, Cordes said.

“There’s never been a successful transit levy in my memory,” Cordes said.

The county operates limited bus service to Elyria and Lorain, plus service into downtown Cleveland for working commuters and riders going to the Horseshoe Casino on Public Square.

The Cleveland run has yet to attract the level of ridership officials were hoping to see.

“This would, at least, be a means of moving the transit system back in a positive direction,” Cordes said.

The service used to be more robust but was severely reduced in size and service as the county dealt with a budget crisis.

In the past two years, the county provided $50,000 to $100,000 for the bus system — a far cry from the $1.2 million to $1.5 million it used to receive when the county’s finances were healthier.

If approved, the local revenue would be matched by federal dollars.

Commissioner Ted Kalo said going with a minimum-sized levy “would be responsible to voters,’’ and Commissioner Tom Williams agreed.

“It’s going to be a hard sell,” William said.

Williams voiced concerns last month about convincing voters in rural parts of the county to approve a transit levy that would largely support urban ridership.

At Wednesday’s meeting Williams questioned whether the levy could be targeted to where the usage is heavier, such as Elyria, Lorain and Oberlin. The answer is that it can’t without the creation of a regional transit district, Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes said.

Even with passage of a levy, Cordes stressed bus service will not be a money-maker.

“We will always lose money,” he said, noting that costs of running bus service will only continue to rise.

Passage of a levy would ensure crucial transportation is provided for those who have no other way to get to work, doctor appointments or shopping.

Commissioners talked of instances of people who have gotten jobs through the county’s workforce development program but lost them because they had no way to get to work once the transit system was curtailed.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.