Wednesday, August 15, 2001

Metro won't seek tax levy in November

But expanding bus service still a goal

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Metro officials will not seek a sales tax levy on November's ballot, saying Tuesday their MetroMoves plan needed to be shaped more like a private business proposal before going to voters for funding.

        “We're suggesting that we hold off so we can answer definitively the questions that our partners in the community may still have,” Metro general manager Paul Jablonski told the board of the Southwestern Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which oversees the area's largest public transit service.

        Metro was considering proposing anywhere from a quarter-cent to a three-quarter-cent increase in the Hamilton County sales tax rate to help fund its MetroMoves initiative. Unveiled in March, it includes plans for route expansion along an east-west basis and installing new transit hubs throughout the county.

        The initiative also includes plans for a proposed regional light rail system, but Metro was not expected to seek funding for the proposed 19-mile, $800 million route.

        The bus improvements called for in MetroMoves would would cost $110-190 million for infrastructure and new buses, and an additional $30 million annually to operate.

        Critics had said the bus plan was a way of paying for light rail without voter approval, because it calls for the construction of multimodal hubs.

        “MetroMoves, as far as I'm concerned, is the same as light rail,” said Paul Naberhaus of Hyde Park, a member of the Southwestern Ohio Regional Drivers Alliance and the anti-tax group Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST).

        Pointing out that the area's public transit system still needs to grow to match jobs with workers needing transportation, Mr. Jablonski said that Metro could reconsider going to the voters as early as the spring. He also said officials could begin lobbying Congress early next year to be included in the next version of the federal transportation bill that would take effect in 2003.

        Metro's current operating budget is $67.8 million, of which half is paid for by federal and state funds and the other half from Cincinnati's earnings tax and fare box funds.

        A quarter-cent increase would have raised about $30 million annually.


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