Transit authority board set to vote on proposed sales tax increase for bus funding

CINCINNATI -- Hamilton County might be one step closer to a sales tax increase, in order to fill a funding gap for the region's bus service -- pending voters' approval, that is.

And it wouldn't be until after next year's fall election.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority operates Cincinnati Metro bus service. Officials announced this week that SORTA's planning and operations committee voted to submit a request to their board of trustees for a ballot measure that would ask voters for a sales tax increase.

The tax levy would go toward filling a growing funding gap facing the transit authority's bus service. SORTA is facing an approximately $3 million shortfall in 2018, accumulating to more than a $20 million projected deficit over the next five years, according to their estimates.

Earlier this year, the transit authority heard recommendations from consultant AECOM on three different sales tax levy options that could benefit its bus service.

The options presented were:

Half-cent increase: SORTA says this option would not succeed in covering the current budget gap, but would help increase service

Three-fourths-cent increase: Would close budget gap, increase service by 22 percent 

One-cent increase: Would close budget gap, increase service by 55 percent

Of Ohio's major metropolitan areas, Greater Cincinnati stands alone in not using a sales tax levy to fund bus transit service.

The city announced in March that it anticipates having enough money in its budget to cover the 2018 deficit, but beyond that remains a question. Almost half of Cincinnati Metro's roughly $100 million budget comes from the city's earnings tax. The next biggest contributor is fare revenue.

Now with the new fiscal year looming, it's time for the SORTA board to decide how they want to work to fill these budget gaps in order to maintain current service levels.

 

"The board of trustees is still debating that issue," Dwight Ferrell, Metro CEO and General Manager, told WCPO in a previous interview. "We as staff have provided the board with a lot of information about what our future looks like in terms of funding and what we need to do."

SORTA has been anticipating the budget shortfall for several years, and has taken a number of steps to prepare, including more than a year's-worth of public input sessions, in addition to consulting with AECOM and the city.

The board will vote Tuesday on whether or not to submit the ballot measure for next year. The public meeting will be held in the Tower Room of the Greater Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library's downtown branch on Walnut Street, at 6 p.m., Tuesday, June 20.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur).

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