Hamilton County Commissioner asks for three more years to solve Metro budget woes

CINCINNATI -- We've heard it many times: The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority has a deficit problem, and the steady tightening of that financial noose prevents local public transportation from growing.

"For the 21st century, a robust transportation like Metro is essential, and we can't do that with the current level of funding," SORTA chief executive director Dwight Ferrell said Sunday.

Ferrell and other members of SORTA's board met Tuesday night to discuss the possibility of using a tax levy to supplement the Metro bus system's budget and expand services for the thousands of people who rely on public transportation daily.

(If SORTA did ask voters to approve a one percent sales tax increase, it would make Hamilton County the most expensive place in the state to make purchases, tied with Cuyahoga County.)

But Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, who has been a vocal opponent of a possible levy, said it's not the only solution.

"Regrettably, the only thing people seem to talk about it a Hamilton County sales tax alone," he said.

Portune asked SORTA Tuesday night to abstain from enforcing a tax levy and instead give Hamilton County three more years to develop a regional (and regionally funded) integrated transportation system.

It's vital, he said, that no new taxes be levied on the people of Greater Cincinnati.

"I will bring to my board a proposal to use a portion of those funds to help bridge a gap between now and 2020, so we can put this regional plan together without any new taxes being proposed," he said.

SORTA hasn't decided what routes might face cuts or elimination if funds fail to materialize. The agency will finalize its 2018 fiscal year budget in November.

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