Cincinnati's Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) is taking steps to protect public transit interests, in response to the City of Cincinnati's decision to take more than $2.4 million from an account intended for transit funding only.
SORTA opposes the city's plans to use transit funding to pay utility costs for street lights, a non-transit expense. The city's action violates the 38-year funding contract with SORTA. Multiple legal opinions from the city's attorneys since 1973 have protected the transit fund from the city's attempts to use the tax revenue for non-transit purposes.
The $2.4 million reduction comes on the heels of a 2009 budget shortfall that forced SORTA to reduce Metro service by 12 percent, make changes in Access service for people with disabilities, increase fares, and layoff employees to balance its budget due to a severe reduction in the city earnings tax collections.
The net reduction to SORTA's 2011 budget is estimated to be about $1 million, assuming the city's increased earnings tax projections are correct. The impact could be higher, if projected earnings tax revenue does not materialize.
SORTA's loss of revenue could affect access to employment; health care; and education for thousands of commuters, people with disabilities, and low-income residents who depend on Metro and Access service for people with disabilities.
The SORTA board directed Metro staff to evaluate all options, both legal and operational, to address this fiscal crisis that threatens SORTA's ability to maintain current service on behalf of the citizens that rely on Metro and Access for 19 million rides per year.
The board also sent a letter to Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and City Council outlining the SORTA board's position:
- Using transit funds for non-transit purposes violates the contract between SORTA and the city and runs counter to 38 years of past practice.
- Using the transit fund for non-transit purposes ignores the will of the voters that passed the transit tax levy in 1972.
- The transit fund was never intended to and cannot be used to offset City budget shortfalls.
- SORTA depends on the transit fund for almost half of its operating revenue, for bus purchases, and to secure federal grants.The city's actions jeopardize transit service to the community and threaten Metro service levels and fares.