Friday, November 16, 2001

Riders plead to save Blast

Butler Co. bus system under ax

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Dozens of people — many of them disabled — crammed into the Butler County commissioners' meeting room Thursday to try to persuade them to bail out the county's public transit system.

        With the voters' Nov. 6 rejection of a quarter-cent county sales tax increase for public transportation, Butler's public transit system — called the Blast — will fold unless it receives $2.8 million.

        “I depend on the bus to get to Oxford to visit family and friends,” Connie Elliott, a developmentally disabled Hamilton woman, told the commissioners.

        Like many people in the meeting room, she wore a T-shirt bearing the message, “Save the Blast.”

        “We need the Blast not just for me, but for everybody,” Ms. Elliott said, her voice shaking with emotion. “Please don't take it away.”

        The Butler County Regional Transit Authority, which operates the bus system, is asking the commissioners for $2.8 million. The Transit Authority would maintain existing fixed routes and restore Dial-A-Ride, a curb-to-curb on-demand service that was eliminated in May after the first voter defeat of the proposed sales tax increase for public transit.

        Without the $2.8 million, the fixed routes will be eliminated Jan. 1 and the system will shut down July 1.

        Commissioner Mike Fox said it will be difficult for the county to come up with $2.8 million.

        “We're trying to cut over $4 million out of county departments' budget requests for next year,” he said. “So just as the Blast is short of money, so are we.”

        The Transit Authority Board will meet Wednesday to decide whether to begin shutting down the system.

        Amy Terango, general manager of the Transit Authority, asked the commissioners to allocate $250,000 to the Blast so that the decision on dismantling can be postponed for two months.

        That would give the commissioners more time to decide whether they want to provide $2.8 million, she said.

        Ms. Terango said if the county allows the Blast to die, it would be forfeiting $8 million in federal funds the Transit Authority is slated to receive over the next four years.

        The commissioners are considering enacting a half-cent sales tax increase for six years and dropping it a quarter cent for four years. That would generate $129 million over 10 years for proposed major road projects and other capital improvements.

        The commissioners could decide to use some of that money for public transit. But they haven't set a date for enacting the tax increase.


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