Mahoning County voters fuel WRTA with county sales tax

To the voters of Ma-honing County who do not use public transportation but still supported the 0.25 percent sales tax Tuesday night for the Western Reserve Transit Authority, you have shown the true meaning of brotherhood. And, to the individuals who depend on the bus service for their daily living, you should be thankful that there are people in our community who look beyond their own needs.

About a month ago, in an editorial urging the passage of the WRTA levy, we used the phrase “But by the grace of God go so many of us.” There are many in our community who have been blessed. But there are just as many who, through no fault of their own, struggle daily. They need a helping hand.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the WRTA is a lifeline, and had the voters rejected the sales tax issue, as they did in March, many residents would have been facing a bleak future. But now, they can rest assured that they will continue to have transportation to get to work, to the store, to doctor’s offices, to college and social events.

By a vote of 62,212 to 49,664, the people of Mahoning County not only endorsed the notion that bus service is essential to the community’s well-being but that the cost of providing this public service should be shared by as many taxpayers as possible. Currently, the WRTA is financed, in part, by two property tax levies paid by Youngstown residents. As the city’s population has declined, so has the money generated by the levies.

With the 0.25 percent county sales tax, the transit authority will get between $7 million and $7.5 million a year to bolster the money it receives from state government.

Deliver on promises

Now that the voters have made their commitment — there’s a lot of credit to go around for the change in WRTA’s fortunes, but the role of the clergy must be acknowledged — Executive Director Jim Ferraro and members of the board have to deliver on the promises made during the campaign.

“When the money starts coming in early 2009, we think we’ll be able to reinstitute night service and Saturday service, have shuttles for the southern portions of Mahoning County and enhance routes in Austintown and Boardman,” Ferraro said Tuesday night after the complete but unofficial results were announced.

Given our unyielding support for the WRTA and the sales tax, we would urge Ferraro to be much more certain about the future. There should be no thinking about restoring services that were cut because of budgetary problems. As for providing shuttles to the southern portions of the county, there can be no compromise. The far reaches of the county need to be convinced that bus transportation is a viable option for them. Residents in those areas have been vocal opponents of the county-wide tax.

Last March, after the issue was defeated, we concluded that there is a deep divide in the community. While we aren’t sure that the divide was completely closed Tuesday night, we do take encouragement from the approval of the sales tax.

Finally, we urge this region’s congressional and state legislative delegations to begin a serious discussion about ending the duplication of public transportation service and also to push for changes in federal regulations that now confine money from Washington to the purchase of rolling stock and for facilities. None of the money can be used for operational costs.

It was a good night for the WRTA Tuesday, but major challenges remain.

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