OVRTA Eyes on Benwood

BENWOOD – The Ohio Valley Regional Transportation Authority board is keeping an eye on the moves of Benwood City Council as it decides this week whether to put a 5 percent bus levy on the ballot this November, rather than one for 15 percent suggested by OVRTA.

“If they choose to put on the 5 percent levy, it’s obviously an issue before the board,” said Director Tom Hvizdos. “It’s going to be a question of fairness. I wouldn’t want to speculate on what they will do if Benwood passes the 5-percent ordinance. The board will discuss that at a future board meeting. If they ask me to, I will provide options.”

New levy rates don’t go into effect until July 1, 2015, so there’s time for the OVRTA board to decide a plan of action, according to Hvizdos.

Benwood Mayor Ed Kuca – a member of the OVRTA board – has said he expects OVRTA to reduce bus runs to Benwood if council opts for the smaller levy.

The city typically pays about $100,000 annually to OVRTA. A 15-percent increase – after figuring an additional 10-percent increase in local property values in Benwood – would bring the city’s cost to about $132,000 a year, City Solicitor Eric Gordon told council members in January.

Wheeling, Bethlehem and McMechen already have passed their 15 percent bus levies by overwhelming margins.

The OVRTA board began to discuss the need for more revenue last December, Hvizdos said. Funding from the federal transportation bill is set to expire, and the U.S. Congress continues to pass resolutions to extend the bill as is.

“It’s likely in the near future, funding will be flat,” Hvizdos said. “We’re going to have to rely more and more on local funding as our vehicles are reaching retirement. Sen. Byrd used to get earmarks to replace funding. But until a new highway and transit bill is passed, we have to think more money needs to be put into the pot.”

OVRTA operates 13 buses, and nine are eligible for replacement, he said. Each new bus costs about $130,000.

Benwood City Council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the city building, 430 Main St., Benwood. The second and final reading of the bus levy ordinance is on the agenda, as is a vote for passage.