December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Lorain County Transit levy campaign to be visible, vocal

Susan Lilly walks to a Lorain County Transit bus in this 2009 file photo. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Susan Lilly walks to a Lorain County Transit bus in this 2009 file photo. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ELYRIA — Backers of a 0.065-mill levy to support Lorain County Transit are hoping that by mounting a campaign they will see a better result than they did a year ago when county voters resoundingly shot down an earlier bid to pass a transit levy.

“If we don’t do anything, nothing’s going to happen. People won’t even know about it,” said Chief Deputy Clerk of Courts Beverly Beidleman, who is spearheading a campaign committee.

The county commissioners skipped campaign efforts a year ago when they tried to convince voters of the need to pass a levy, which 59 percent of voters rejected.

Commissioner Lori Kokoski said she and her fellow commissioners mostly relied on grassroots efforts, word of mouth and newspaper coverage to tell voters about the levy last year, but that didn’t work.

“We’re going to do whatever we can to get the word out better than we have in the past,” she said.

Transit has seen its fortunes plummet in recent years as the county has grappled with budget shortfalls. Although it was once a county-spanning system, transit is largely limited to two routes in Elyria and Lorain as well as a small Dial-A-Ride service.

The reduction in county dollars has meant that officials have had to return millions of dollars in state and federal grants for which they couldn’t provide matching funds.

County Administrator Jim Cordes said earlier this week that this year alone the county is returning $2.2 million in unused federal money to the Ohio Department of Transportation for redistribution around the state. He estimated that in total, the county has given up roughly $5 million in recent years.

Kokoski said that effectively has made Lorain County a donor to other public transportation systems around the state.

“We’re paying for transit, just not here,” she said.

The proposed levy, which will appear on the May ballot, would bring in $402,804 annually to support transit, according to figures provided by the county.

Beidleman said the need for transit is there, especially for those who don’t have any other way to get to work, medical appointments or even to stores.

“Right now, it you don’t have a car, you’re out of luck,” she said.

Beidleman said she’s hopeful the committee will be able to draw in support from businesses, nonprofits and others who see the need and are willing to contribute time or money to get the issue passed. She said she’d like to see the campaign raise at least $10,000 for yard signs, billboards and possibly even newspaper or cable television advertising.

Kokoski said the levy would only add a few dollars to property tax bills.

“It’s not that much to help your fellow man,” she said. “Even though you might not use it and even though it might not come past your house, it’s needed in the community.”

Commissioner Ted Kalo said he’s glad to see a committee forming to support the transit levy, although he doesn’t think that a similar committee will be needed to support a separate 0.08-mill levy that will go toward funding the Lorain County Crime Lab, where drug and fingerprint evidence is analyzed.

He said that measure, which would bring in $495,759, enjoys wide support from law enforcement, which views the Crime Lab as an essential tool.

An organizational meeting for the transit levy campaign is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday on the fourth floor of the Lorain County Administration Building. Beidleman said the meeting will run about an hour because any county worker involved in the effort will need to use their lunch hour to attend.

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