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Published: Wednesday, 11/7/2012

City officials, residents react to defeat of transit levy

BY REBECCA CONKLIN KLEIBOEMER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Perrysburg officials and supporters were stunned by the defeat of a 1.45-mill levy that would have funded an alternative transportation system within the city for people with disabilities, after the community decided to forgo its service with TARTA last spring.

"I'm still shocked," said councilman J. Todd Grayson today after voters narrowly defeated the measure at the polls Tuesday.

According to unofficial results from the Wood County Board of Elections, 5,738 votes were cast for the levy, and 5,921 against it, a 49 percent to 51 percent margin.

Mayor Nelson Evans called the results "unfortunate" but said it was up to the voters to decide the matter, as they had when they voted in March to withdraw from the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority.

"We felt we had a quality and economical system in place to provide public transportation for our community but our voters didn't see it that way," Mayor Evans stated in a news release.

City officials tentatively had chosen a contractor, Ride Right of Lake St. Louis, Mo., and provided limited bus service within Perrysburg since TARTA service ceased Sept. 22. Ride Right’s interim contract is set to expire Sunday, which leaves the city with no public transportation for those with disabilities.

Residents who have been using the call-a-ride service during the interim period said they were devastated.

"We really created an isolated community here, and I'm very, very puzzled by that," said Gil Lutz, of Perrysburg.

Mr. Lutz is visually impaired and is assisted by a seeing-eye dog. He said he is quite active and depends on public transportation to get him around; by 1 p.m. today he already had used the service twice.

Derek O'Neal, who was disabled in an automobile accident, works as a greeter at the Meijer store in Rossford and chose to live in Perrysburg because of its public transportation availability.

"Now I'm not sure if I'll be able to still work here," he said.

A special meeting of the city's Health, Sanitation, and Public Utilities Committee has been scheduled for 5 p.m. today in council chambers to discuss public transportation.

Mr. Grayson, who chairs the committee, said it was possible that the city could put the issue on the March ballot under a smaller millage.

Denny Barrett, a Perrysburg resident who served as treasurer for the advocacy group Perrysburg 4 Transit, said it was a "shame" that the levy had failed when it would have cost the average homeowner about $60 a year.

"They'll have to find a whole new way of people getting to where they need to," he said.

No matter the millage, the levy was just another burden on Perrysburg homeowners, said a voter who did not wish to be identified.

"That's even more money I would have had to pay on my property taxes," he said. "What's the sense of getting rid of TARTA if you're just going to have something else?"

Mr. Lutz countered that supporting services used by others was part of living together.

"I think that's part of the responsibility of living in a community," he said.

Mr. Lutz, who has lived in Perrysburg since 1962, said he has no children but always has supported the schools, including the district's request Tuesday for a 13.15-mill levy that would incrementally increase the next three years to 14.4 mills, 15.7 mills, and 17 mills. The levy - which will generate about $10 million in the first year - passed.

Mr. Grayson said he had not considered a scenario in which the large levy for the school district would pass but the relatively small transportation levy would not.

He said voters had abandoned residents who rely on the service to get to work, attend meetings and appointments, or patronize city businesses.

"That's not the Perrysburg I know and love," he said.

Contact Rebecca Conklin Kleiboemer at rconklin@theblade.com or 419-356-8786.



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