Recently, the SCPR learned that Ohio has virtually abandoned public transportation. Back in 2001 Ohio's budget provided $43 million to be spread among Ohio's 88 counties for operations such as Stark County's SARTA.
Guess what the number is in the 2010 state budget?
$10.7 million, that's what.
Neighboring Pennsylvania spends $400 million plus, Illinois $200 plus and even Indiana has budget about $20 million.
So what does this mean to SARTA and by extension to everyday Stark Countians?
It means that the 2500 or so Stark Countians who have no other way to get to work than taking the bus are at risk, pure and simple. Scores of Stark's students depend on SARTA to get to school. The elderly, who can no longer drive, must have SARTA to get out and about. They need to visit their doctors, get prescriptions and their groceries.
All are in jeopardy as SARTA struggles to survive. Stark's only public transporter has cut its budget from $16 million a couple of years ago to $13.9 million for 2010.
Most of SARTA's money comes from a 1/4th of one percent sales/use tax issue that is set to expire in 2012. In today's economy and stretching through the foreseeable future, it is very likely that new levy attempts are going to fail.
The Stark County commissioners are looking at a renewal of a 1/4th of one percent in the sales/use tax in 2011 at the latest. But this is money that will be going to the county general fund and will be designed to merely keep the county afloat.
It could be that voters will approve the county government's renewal effort (certainly, the commissioners can forget anything additional), but passage of even a renewal is far from a sure thing. What the commissioners' initiative will do is to make a SARTA levy attempt that same year or in 2012 very, very difficult.
Apparently, new SARTA CEO Kirt Conrad realizes his dilemma and in November put his pen to paper writing each member of the Stark County legislative delegation (Ohio House: Oelslager (R) - the 51st, Okey - the 61st, Slesnick (D) - the 52nd and Snitchler (R) - the 50th; Ohio Senate: Schuring (R) - 29th and Schiavoni (D) - 33rd) asking that they do something about the inadequate Ohio funding of public transportation.
The letter went out on November 27th. What follows are two excerpts from Conrad's letter.
One. A grand total of one. That from Scott Oelslager. The SCPR contacted Senator Schuring and asked him why he had not responded.
From the SCPR's experience only Schuring, Schiavoni and Todd Snitchler are good to respond to inquiries. Okey, Slesnick are very bad to respond and Oleslager is just so-so.
Schuring said he never got the letter and promised The Report that he would contact Conrad immediately with a response.
Oleslager? Just take a look at his response:
Sure hope so because his response nearly 9 weeks later (February 3, 2010) is anemic at best. He passes it on to the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Who votes on the budget?
The Ohio Department of Transportation? No!
Scott Oelslager that's who. He's a guy who has been in the Legislature for 24 years plus. It is on his watch that the budget has atrophied from $43 million to $10.7 million.
And this guy wants Stark Countians to return him to the Ohio Senate? To represent all of Stark County? To do what? Vegetate?
But at least Oelslager answered.
Don't hold your breath for Slesnick to answer, nor Okey. The SCPR believes that when Snitchler becomes aware of this "oversight," he will correct the error of his ways.
Stark Countians undoubtedly wonder what their state legislators are doing in Columbus.
The way things are going, it appears as if they are presiding over the demise of SARTA, no?
Who gets hurt?
Those who can least afford it. Folks who average about $18,000 per year in income.