WRTA board seeks renewal of sales-tax

By Ashley Luthern



The Western Reserve Transit Authority Board of Trustees approved placing a 0.25-percent sales tax renewal before Mahoning County voters this fall.

The board took action at its Thursday meeting. WRTA is funded primarily by a 0.25-percent sales tax, which first was approved by voters in November 2008. The upcoming renewal is another five-year measure.

Without the renewal, all services will be cut, and WRTA will cease to operate, said Jim Ferraro, WRTA executive director.

WRTA sales-tax revenue has continued to grow since 2009, the depths of the recession. In that year, the transit authority collected about $4.2 million in sales tax. In 2010 and 2011, the amount grew to about $6.9 million and $7.5 million, respectively.

The sales-tax revenue looks like it will continue to grow in 2012 as collections in each of the first five months of this year, $3.2 million so far, have surpassed those in 2011. The transit authority’s 2012 budget is about $10.7 million, said Marianne Vaughn, WRTA director of finance.

The sales tax “covers general operating expenses and any local share of capital projects, which includes buses and equipment,” she said. The local share of grants is usually about 20 percent of that total cost, Vaughn added.

WRTA has grown since the switch to sales tax, Ferraro said.

“Everybody knows that at one point, we lived on city property tax, and it was difficult,” he said.

In 2007, before the sales-tax vote, WRTA had suspended Saturday bus service, eliminated evening bus runs and canceled some trips on daily routes, according to Vindicator files.

Now, WRTA provides daily public-transportation services to more than 4,000 seniors, people with disabilities and workers throughout the county, Ferraro said.

The transit authority employs about 100 people, 25 of whom are drivers hired after passage of the sales tax, he added.

WRTA board president John P. Brown III said the transit authority’s impact is far-reaching.

“It’s vital to the economy of the Mahoning Valley, taking people to and from jobs and doctor’s appointments and improving overall quality of life,” he said.

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