A governing board that oversees Greater Cincinnati's Metro bus system will hold a rare weekend meeting tomorrow to discuss the latest development in an ongoing dispute about how the system is financed and controlled.
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) will convene a session of its board of trustees at 11 a.m. Saturday. The board will confer about Cincinnati City Council's decision Wednesday to give SORTA the legally required six-month notice that the city plans to end its contract with the agency. SORTA has operated the city's bus system since 1973.
The city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County have been embroiled in a dispute about SORTA for at least six years. Although the city provides the single largest share of the bus systems operations budget, the county directly or indirectly controls all nine seats on the SORTA board. City council say that gives county commissioners too much input into decisions about spending and whether to add, revise or eliminate routes.
SORTA is a quasi-independent agency, with about $42 million of its $89 million annual budget — roughly 47 percent — derived from Cincinnati's earnings tax revenues, a payroll tax paid by everyone who works within city limits. Most of the remainder comes from state and federal grants.
Hamilton County commissioners directly appoint five members to SORTA’s nine-person governing board and decide whether to approve recommendations from Cincinnati City Council on filling the four other seats.
If the city of Cincinnati follows through with terminating SORTA’s contract, that means another entity could begin operating the system in March 2009. During the interim, no changes can be made to routes or service. Metro’s assets — including its fleet of buses and maintenance garages — would revert to the city.
In actuality, the city’s notice is designed to increase the pressure on county commissioners into negotiating changes to the SORTA board, although city council has indicated it will end the contract if no compromise is reached.
SORTA’s board will meet at the agency’s offices, located at The Gwynne Building, 602 Main St., Suite 1200.
For more background on the dispute, check out this week’s edition of CityBeat, which features a Porkopolis column about the impasse over the region’s bus system.