Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, July 3 newspaper on Page A1.
Putting an Athens County transit tax on the November ballot is now looking highly unlikely.
Officials from Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action (HAPCAP) had recently asked the county commissioners if they would be “comfortable thinking about” putting a 0.25 sales tax on the November ballot to expand public transit in the county. Ohio law allows a separate 0.25 percent sales tax for transit purposes.
HAPCAP operates Athens Public Transit, and the idea is to expand that by having fixed bus routes to other areas of the county and also expand Athens On Demand to serve members of the general public not on fixed routes. On Aug. 1, a six-month pilot project funded by donations will provide bus service to Nelsonville and Albany.
In May, the commissioners responded that they needed more information, and also cautioned HAPCAP officials of the importance of garnering support from people outside of Athens for such a countywide tax.
Jessie Schmitzer, Athens County mobility coordinator for HAPCAP, has had a series of public meetings out in the county and with various village councils.
She met with the commissioners Tuesday to report back, but Commissioner Lenny Eliason said there is another issue that would need to be addressed before a tax could be placed on the ballot.
“There is a giant hurdle to doing this, and it changes the entire discussion.” Eliason said. “The only way we can enact and put on the ballot an additional sales tax (for transit) is to create either a regional transit system or a countywide transit system that we would control and appoint.”
Athens on Demand and other services would have to go under the control of the transit system, he said, “so there is a lot to do.”
Eliason said there would need to be two public hearings about such a transit tax that are advertised for 30 days. The deadline for putting issues on the November ballot is Aug. 7.
“The timing is not going to work to get it on the this fall’s ballot,” he said.
Eliason said there needs to be discussion with the city of Athens, HAPCAP and Ohio University about the potential of a transit system (transit authority) being created by the county.
“There’s a whole lot of stuff you would have to talk about,” he said. “It’s time to have some deep discussion about it.”
“We could start it, get the conversation started,” Schmitzer said.