WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – Trumbull County Commissioners once again didn’t vote for the county to join the WRTA during a heated meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Commissioner Niki Frenchko made a motion to join, but no one else seconded the move.
There’s an early August deadline for WRTA to put a sales tax on the November ballot to pay for the Trumbull operation.
Still, Trumbull County transit administrator Mike Salamone said if commissioners passed a resolution, it would then take about two months to be passed by Youngstown officials, Mahoning County Commissioners and the WRTA Board, which meets in July.
Frenchko said she was disappointed by this.
“I believe in letting the people vote as to whether or not they want regional transit that’s reliable because it’s going to help with the economy, it’s going to help with economic development, it’s going to be a boost to our region to do something the right way,” Frenchko said. “If we let this slide, if we miss this opportunity right now, then it will be Trumbull County again taking two steps forward and three steps back.”
There was tension in the room when commissioners opened up the discussion to other community members.
During the meeting, Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said he “doesn’t like passing a $6 million tax for 5% of the people.”
Warren Councilwoman Helen Rucker, who drove down to the commissioner’s meeting after tuning in over the phone, told commissioners she was offended by what Cantalamessa said.
“People in Cortland, in Champion, have said to me that they’re waiting for this service to get a job,” Rucker said. “Trumbull County’s number one issue is transportation, far more than any other issue we have in the county. It’s been transportation for seniors, moderate-income people and for people who are just like me who don’t want to drive or can’t drive all the time.”
“For you to have had as much time as you have had to review all of the questions, to meet with the WRTA, to meet with Mahoning County Commissioners and still come back in front of the people and say ‘we don’t have the answers to basic questions, it’s disheartening to me,” she continued.
Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said it’s a tough decision to make, but he thinks a sales tax isn’t the best route.
“A $6 million price tag is not something that I take very lightly. For $6 million, I would think we would need a very robust on-demand system. I think we need a turn-key operation, and I think we need to not rely on any of our senior levy dollars,” he said.
Cantalamessa said if Trumbull County is going to have a comprehensive transit system, he expects it to be comprehensive on day one, especially with a sales tax increase.
Commissioner Frank Fuda said there are other priorities in the county ahead of transportation.
“We have other ways to do the transportation,” Fuda said. “The things we need to spend money on, and if we wanted to pass a sales tax, if we had to pass a sales tax, those would be the priorities.”
Cantalamessa said they’re looking into other transportation options, but for now, he said they’re committed to still serving senior citizens and disabled members of the community.
“That’s not to say the commissioners are abandoning transportation,” he said. “We’ve committed to our senior levy through other means to provide rides to our seniors and other disabled, and we’ll continue to do that.”
He said there are other options for the county to work with WRTA even if they don’t join.
“It doesn’t mean we can’t contract with them for less dollars and still maintain some of the more successful and well-ridden fixed routes,” Cantalamessa said.
For now, though, without a vote on the resolution, several fixed routes in Warren and Trumbull County will be coming to an end, and Frenchko said there’s no set alternative plan in place.
“Trumbull County has no plan for transportation right now,” Frenchko said. “They’re looking for alternatives to WRTA because the other commissioners don’t want to bring it to the people to vote on regional transportation.”
Frenchko said WRTA isn’t just a city issue. She said joining would benefit all of Trumbull County with economic developments and would save the county money in the long run.
“Literally and figuratively, Trumbull County is about to miss the bus,” she said.
Salamone wouldn’t disclose information about alternative plans at this time but said he will give 27 First News more details in the upcoming weeks.