The levy would generate about $7.5 million annually.
By ANGIE SCHMITT
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — After drastic service reductions, the Western Reserve Transit Authority is appealing to voters for a quarter-percent sales tax that would make the public transit system countywide.
The transit system slashed its $7 million budget to $5 million last year with measures that included layoffs and route reductions. Between 45 percent and 50 percent of its runs have been eliminated, said Executive Director Jim Ferraro.
“We’ve experienced increases in fuel costs, for insurance costs and a lot of things that come with public transportation,” said Ferraro. Meanwhile, annual state funding for public transportation has been reduced from about $800,000 in the late 1990s to about $172,000 today, Ferraro said.
A countywide sales tax would be enough to restore night and weekend service as well as assume some of the single-passenger transportation programs at the county level, said Ferraro.
Officials estimate voter approval of the tax — which will appear on ballots as Issue 1 — would generate about $7.5 million annually. The $2.5 million being generated by a 5-mill property tax in the city of Youngstown would be eliminated following a successful levy.
Ferraro said the levy has received backing from Campbell, Struthers, the city of Youngstown and the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments. But the WRTA levy campaign has earned some detractors as well, including Sebring Mayor John W. Smith.
“Mahoning County is not a county-bus type of county,” said Smith. “We have a lot of rural and small communities. The benefit to any of these areas, I think, is going to be very, very nil.”
Ferraro, however, said more and more township residents are demanding bus service.
WRTA has been increasing its ridership in Austintown and Boardman.
Meanwhile, Youngstown residents are increasingly forced to travel outside the city for health care, groceries and work, he said.
Ferraro said the authority’s most popular route takes riders down Market Street into Boardman. He estimates at least a third of WRTA’s riders travel outside of the city.
Ridership has dipped about 10 percent since the cuts were imposed in September. The transit authority provided 1.6 million rides last year, Ferraro said.
“I think public transportation is important to the economy, to who relocates and moves in,” he said. “Most people feel that public transportation is important and good, but how do you fund it?”