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WRTA plan moves forward

County and transit service set to look at legal issues

WARREN — Trumbull County commissioners on Wednesday took the first step toward joining WRTA.

All three commissioners voted to authorize legal teams from the county and the Western Reserve Transit Authority to gather information and outline the next steps that need to be taken to allow the county to become a full member of the public transit system.

Dean Harris, executive director of WRTA, said he will have meetings soon with officials in Mahoning County and Youngstown, the entities that already make up WRTA. After the legal teams outline the steps that must be taken to amend WRTA to add Trumbull County, all three entities will have to vote to restructure WRTA to include it.

That vote is expected in the last few months of 2020.

Harris said he expects the official vote to include Trumbull County in WRTA to be “well received” and that the expansion will be “good for the community.”

WRTA has been running expanded routes in Trumbull County since March, using money provided by the state for a program funded until May.

If the county joins WRTA, and WRTA asks voters in May for a sales tax increase and it is granted, Harris said he expects WRTA to cover the costs of the routes until WRTA starts seeing the sales tax revenue deposits in September 2021 to prevent a break in services. Once the revenue starts coming in, Harris said he expects to increase services in Trumbull County and create more routes. It will take time to plan the routes and obtain the vehicles necessary to expand, Harris said.

Harris said he also is working on a plan to continue offering zero-fare rides. Rides on the system are free through December now because of COVID-19, but Harris said he would like to make it permanent.

Zero-fare rides make public transit even more accessible to those in need of a way to get to work or elsewhere, Harris said.

Part of the legal research will include an expiration of how to dissolve the Trumbull County Transit Board, if necessary, because it is no longer funded and is not expected to be necessary if Trumbull County becomes a member of WRTA.

The state allows only one transit authority in a county — run either by a commissioner-appointed board, commissioners, or a transit authority like WRTA. The process also will determine how the WRTA governing board’s makeup will be adjusted to allow Trumbull County representation.

Although WRTA’s board will make the final decision about whether to implement a sales tax to pay for Trumbull County’s participation in the WRTA, it appears unlikely another revenue source would be enough to cover the county’s share of operations for the general public.

Commissioners thanked Harris and Mike Salamone, Trumbull County transit administrator, for laying the initial groundwork to transform the county’s transit system, and the county’s senior levy advisory board members for helping to identify the problems with the way the county used to provide limited public transit services.

“I look forward to working with you (Harris). I think it is going to be beneficial to the entire area. Thank you for all the work you’ve been doing,” commissioner Frank Fuda said.

Commissioners Dan Polivka then thanked Harris for “being patient,” “taking all of my calls” and “answering the additional questions” he had.

“One of the things that spoke volumes was that regardless of what happens, you’re still going to continue with the Warren Express (fixed route) because it is beneficial to Mahoning and Trumbull County. But hopefully, good things will come of it,” Polivka said.

Salamone said it was a “long road” to prepare the county to change the way it handles public transportation, but said there is a lot of work to complete still.

“This is very important for everyone,” Fuda said. “It is very important. We are hoping to get a line out to Lordstown because there are many people who are going to apply for several jobs out there. Many people need that transportation. There are a lot of people who can’t afford to buy a car and they need that public transportation to make it work.”

Cantalamessa said the transit service will help combat food deserts and make it easier to do business in Trumbull County.

“When we talk to our economic development partners and we talk about retention of industry and attracting new industry, a comprehensive transportation system is one of those tools in the tool box we can use to tell companies, ‘Look, you can get people to work here, you can get people to and from work that normally couldn’t.’ So, it makes it a little easier when you’re trying to do business in Trumbull County,” Cantalamessa said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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