Alison Goebel

GOPC Executive Director Visits with Ohio Congressional Leaders

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GOPC Executive Director, Alison Goebel, met with staff for Congressman Tiberi and Congressman Turner to urge them to maintain critical community revitalization programs in the forthcoming federal budget.  Goebel was one of thirty leaders participating in a Hill Day for smart growth groups from around the country

Programs that have been critical to the stabilization and revitalization of Ohio’s small and large communities are under threat, including Low Income Housing Tax Credits, and Community Development Block Grant funding (CDBG) and HOME dollars, which support everything from greening programs to affordable housing preservation.  TIGER grants, the funding source for a number of innovative transportation projects that make Ohio’s communities more attractive and competitive, are also under threat. 

Staff in Congressman Tiberi’s office and Congressman Turner’s office both acknowledged the importance of these programs to their districts and the entire state of Ohio. 

With more than 45 congressional visits scheduled, GOPC and its peer organizations are hopeful that these invaluable programs remain in place moving forward.

Models for Success Session Delves into Funding of Ohio’s Transit Systems

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate As part of the first breakout sessions at the 2016 ODOT Conference held at the Convention Center in Columbus, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s Deputy Director Alison Goebel moderated a panel session titled: “Models for Success: Moving Transit Forward in Times of Fiscal Constraint.” After Goebel’s brief comments to frame the session, speakers from Dayton, Cincinnati, and Toledo each discussed the funding models for their respective transit systems and highlighted the current challenges of ensuring that transit is well supported in Ohio. Brandon Policicchio of the Greater Regional Transit Authority, John Deatrick of the City of Cincinnati, and Jim Gee of the Toledo Regional Transit Authority summarized key facts about their area transit systems and described funding opportunities and sources, strategic partners, and innovative services each system provides.

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Speakers from left: Brandon Policicchio, Jim Gee, Alison Goebel, and John Deatrick

In Ohio, Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) are funded with a variety of local funding sources.  Eight counties utilize a county sales tax of up to 1%. Policicchio noted that Dayton’s RTA benefits over the long term from assurances that that revenue stream will continue, given that the half-cent sales tax does not expire for renewal. A few counties generate the majority of their RTA revenue via non-sales tax means: Toledo Area RTA (TARTA), the Steel Valley, and the Ohio Valley levy a property tax and the Cincinnati area RTA (SORTA) levies an income tax. Interestingly, Deatrick noted that Cincinnati will begin to levy a new parking fee to generate a few million dollars to fund the Streetcar, which will be unveiled in September.

While 27 Ohio counties do not even operate a public transit system, and given that 60 percent of public transit trips are work trips (medical trips are the second most common destination for transit riders), local transit systems would greatly benefit from increased state support. As GOPC has highlighted in recent memos, Ohio’s contribution to transit calculates to 63 cents per capita, which ranks 38th in the nation – in between Mississippi and North Dakota. With federal grant support few and far between, Gee explained that many existing transit authorities must scramble to find creative local ways to ensure their systems continue to serve riders.

Despite the strains facing Ohio’s transit systems, Gee emphasized that there are reasons to be encouraged about transit in Ohio. Firstly, ODOT remains an important player and a key partner in ensuring that transit has a bright future in Ohio. GOPC echoes this support of the state’s role and was encouraged by ODOT’s commission of the 2015 Transit Needs Study. Secondly, baby boomers and millennials simply demand more public transportation and will be a significant voice in this issue. Thirdly, there are already many success stories in Ohio; as Policicchio and Deatrick discussed, Dayton serves over 200,000 annual trips while Cincinnati is implementing exciting mobile technologies such as fare purchasing via smartphone as part of its imminent Streetcar rollout. Moreover, Cleveland was selected to host the recent Republican National Convention in large part due to its robust light rail system and excellent Bus Rapid Transit fleet.

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From left: Policicchio, Gee, and Deatrick

The need for additional state support is clear, however this session highlighted that Ohio’s transit agencies are acting creatively and resourcefully to meet demand for their services. 

 

GOPC Releases Memos Recommending Strategies to Reform Ohio’s Transportation Policy

GOPC is a leading advocate for policy reforms that will support a diverse and modernized transportation system in Ohio.  To support GOPC’s most recent policy recommendations, GOPC has published a series of research memos that:

  • Analyze Pennsylvania’s 2013 comprehensive budget reform and identifies strategies that Ohio could replicate.  Undertaking a similar reform in Ohio could produce more resources and recalibrated funding to better fund all transportation modes, especially public transportation.
  • Outline the benefits of “flexing” $30 million of Ohio’s federal dollars to public transportation.  Ohio is the 7th most populous state in the country yet ranks 38th in state support of public transportation.  The allocation of existing federal funds to transit could support 370 new rural transit vans or 107 new full size buses per year.  Ohio currently has 275 rural vehicles and 900 urban buses beyond their useful life and 22 rural counties without any transit service.
  • Discuss the benefits of raising the state motor fuel tax, indexing it to inflation and removing, through statewide ballot, the constitutional provisions that restricts the gas tax’s use to highways.  By the Ohio constitution, the state’s gas tax can only be used for highway construction and repairs.  While increasing the gas tax is not a complete  solution, it is a longstanding resource that will remain so for Ohio.

To attract and retain businesses and residents, states across the country are investing in diverse, modern transportation systems that support all modes.  Ohio has a geographic advantage of being within 600 miles of over half of the U.S. and Canadian populations.  To leveraging this prime position, Ohio must invest in transit, bike/ped, rail, deep water ports, airports and highways. GOPC’s memos outline strategies to support and enhance all the modes that make up Ohio’s transportation system.

Click here to for more information and to access the memos.

Recrafting Vacant Properties into Assests: Panel at HeritageOhio

By Ellen Turk, GOPC Intern I recently attended a panel at the HeritageOhio annual conference where Alison Goebel, Associate Director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center along with Doug Lewis, Painesville Assistance City Manager and Josh Harmon, President of the Ohio Code Enforcement Officials Association, discussed utilizing “Vacant Properties as Assets”.

Goebel explained that since the 1970s Ohio’s population has incrementally declined while land use for commercial purposes has remained stable. In addition to this decline, Ohioans’ demographic makeup has continued to age at a rapid rate. Vacant properties across the state have remained at about 10%, costing an estimated $15 million in city services each year with $49 million lost in taxpaying revenue. Eight cities in Ohio spent $41 million servicing vacant properties. To this end, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s guidebook, “Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities,” functions as a resource for anyone seeking to redevelop and reuse vacant properties in downtown areas of towns or cities to promote economic growth.  Motivating business people and owners to invest in downtown properties and updating them can help attract visitors and generate revenue for communities.

But how do you encourage title owners to maintain their property or business owners to invest in local downtowns?

One method described in the guidebook and implemented successfully by Painesville Assistance City Manager Doug Lewis is through passing a Vacant Properties Ordinance. In Painesville, vacant properties can be owned by a variety of titleholders, including irresponsible owners and corporations not inclined to sell or maintain. The Ordinance requires owners to submit a Vacant Properties Plan whereby proprietors who do not comply with the rules of the Ordinance and proprietors who do not file the plan on time face fines. If the property is no longer deemed vacant, 30% of the building must be used and the first floor must be utilized.

Another way to curb irresponsible property ownership is through the courts. In Cleveland, the court system has stipulated that you can conduct no business within the court until you have paid off any outstanding fines to the court. This is very useful for incentivizing owners of multiple vacant buildings with fines to sell or generate revenue on the properties. Also, a Court Community Service program ensures minor offenders are placed in the community to perform manual labor and bring properties back to building code compliance.

According to the guidebook, another essential tool is hard data demonstrating the economic effects of revitalization. Josh Harmon spoke about the importance of data as a tool to show communities the detriments of having vacant properties. Census counts recording the number of vacant properties in an area is important. Often, showing residents a vacant property can act as a drain to city resources encourages them to support Vacant Building Ordinances. In Franklin County alone the last time that vacant properties were assessed was 2006! To mitigate vacant property problems, Greater Ohio Policy Center recommends targeting resources, forming alliances in the community, and defining the most effective way to allocate funds and assets.