Laketran is taking a slightly different route when it seeks passage of its 0.25 percent sales tax levy renewal on the Nov. 5 ballot.
While the percentage of the renewal is the same as Laketran's previous levy requests, the duration is different.
Instead of aiming to renew the issue for a 10-year period, as Laketran has for the past two decades, the Nov. 5 issue is a continuous levy -- that is, one with no expiration date.
Laketran's trustees discussed the ballot issue at length and decided that a continuous levy would ensure a more secure future for the transit agency and the people who rely on it, said board President Kevin Malecek.
"What this would allow is that there's going to be some type of Laketran that is going to be here over a continuous period of time," Malecek said. "We just all felt as a board that this was the way to go, because (Laketran) is an important part of why people live here."
Revenue from the sales tax levy renewal comprises 60 percent of the Laketran's annual budget. That big slice of the financial pie is vital for Laketran to continue providing bus transportation through its fixed routes, Commuter Express and Dial-a-Ride services. In 2012, Laketran served 781,700 riders -- 331,833 on fixed routes; 198,419 on Commuter Express; and 251,448 through Dial-a-Ride.
"They're all heavily utilized," Malecek said about the three categories. "People are just so dependent on it. The stories that we've heard from the people that we've talked to about it -- I need to go to the doctor, I need to get to my job, I need to just have a life in general. It's just such an important component of what's going on out there."
Laketran will attempt to renew its 0.25 percent sales tax levy only a few months after Ohio recently increased the state sales tax rate to 5.75 percent from 5.5 percent.
Rates within individual counties vary as each county determines what to add to the state's sales tax rate. Transit agencies, such as Laketran, have the ability to add on sales tax rates. As of Sept. 1, the overall sales tax rate in Lake County rose to 7 percent from 6.75 percent, which includes the 0.25 percent for Laketran.
Although the state made a decision to increase the sales tax for all Ohioans, Laketran opted not to place a heavier burden on Lake County residents, said the transit agency's executive director, Ray Jurkowski.
"So to save the local taxpayer an increase a second time, the board went with a renewal," he said.
In fact, Jurkowski said Laketran has kept its sales tax levy at 0.25 percent since it first hit the ballot in 1988.
The sales tax in Ohio is added to the price of taxable goods, such as vehicles purchased by Lake County residents, clothing and other retail items.
In 2012, Laketran received $7.8 million in sales tax, accounting for about 60 percent of its $12.2 million budget. The remainder of its budget is derived from minimal revenue from fares, as well as state and federal funding.
Laketran has experienced cuts in both federal and state transit funds in recent years. But if the renewal issue fails, Laketran would no longer be eligible for federal and state transit funding. That's because securing these funds requires a recipient transit agency to have local matching dollars -- which is what the sales tax levy provides for Laketran, Jurkowski said.
"Neither the federal nor the state government will fund a transit system without local funding," he said.
Lake County has about 153,000 registered voters who are eligible to decide the Laketran issue, according to the most recent figures from the county Elections Board.
If the levy goes down to defeat in November, Laketran's future looks grim, Malecek said.
"To be very frank about it, if this doesn't pass, there is not going to be a Laketran," he said.
But that doesn't mean bus service would end on Nov. 6, the day after the election. Laketran's current sales tax levy doesn't expire until July, giving transit system leaders a chance to put the levy before voters a second time.