The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority seeks a five-year renewal of its 0.4-mill property tax on next month’s ballot. The Blade recommends a vote FOR Issue 1.
Despite missteps, the port authority is a regional economic driver. It manages an impressive list of cleanup and development projects that have attracted tens of millions of dollars in state and federal grants to this community.
The levy generates $2.1 million a year for the port authority, which operates the Port of Toledo, Toledo Express Airport, and Toledo Executive Airport. The tax would otherwise expire at year’s end.
Renewal of the levy will not change the $6.60 in annual taxes now paid by the owner of a house valued at $100,000. Revenue from the tax supports land purchases and cleanup of contaminated brownfield properties. It does not go to salaries or operations.
Since the last tax renewal in 2008, the port authority has cleaned up the former Chevron site in East Toledo, including construction of a bulk-materials terminal. It acquired and cleaned up the former Jeep factory site in central Toledo, which it seeks to revive as an industrial park — another job creator. The authority has spent $23 million to clean up pollution, remove old building foundations, and prepare the sites for redevelopment.
The lion’s share of the levy — $10.5 million since 2008 — has leveraged $83 million in state and federal grants for cleanups and other community development projects. More than $2 million has funded grants and low-interest loans for small-business and building renovation projects in Toledo through the authority’s Community Economic Development Initiative. Roughly $350,000 a year of the levy goes to projects in disadvantaged and central-city areas.
Other port authority initiatives include the takeover of Toledo’s three municipal parking garages, $73 million in bond issues for projects, a $15 million U.S. Department of Energy grant for efficiency upgrades at 50 buildings, and work with Toledo Jet Center and BX Solutions to launch firms at Toledo Express after Cessna/Citation and BAX Global left.
The authority needs to improve in some areas, such as preserving commercial passenger service at Toledo Express. Passenger traffic has, until recently, declined steadily over the past nine years.
Still, bad management is not to blame. Deregulation and a sour economy hurt the regional airport and made flights from Toledo less attractive than direct flights from nearby Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a major hub. The port authority has tried to maintain traffic, cutting fees at Toledo Express, waiving landing fees, and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising.
The number of passenger flights out of Toledo Express fell by 75 percent between 2007 and 2012. Eight airlines have left the airport in the past decade. The authority must do more to attract low-fare carriers and nonstop flights to vacation destinations and to persuade local employers and travelers to use the airport.
The airport has advantages, including proximity, convenient and low-cost parking, and shorter check-in and security lines. It’s encouraging that Toledo Express has reported higher passenger traffic this year.
The port authority should show more interest, and dedicate more dollars, to courting Great Lakes cruise ships. Little, if any, of the authority’s marketing budget goes to attracting such ships. William Carroll, the authority’s chairman, told The Blade’s editorial page that authority officials are talking to the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition and will continue to consider opportunities as the Great Lakes cruise industry grows.
The port authority needs to do a better job of addressing environmental concerns at Facility 3, the dredgings disposal facility for the Toledo Ship Channel in Lake Erie’s Maumee Bay. Critics argue that the disposal operation of Toledo’s treated sewage sludge is mismanaged and poorly overseen, polluting Lake Erie and damaging recreational boating, swimming, and fishing.
The authority insists that the operation is environmentally sound, citing results from state and federally approved tests of the waters surrounding the dredge disposal facility in 2010 and 2011. Nevertheless, the authority should agree to an independent study to determine the extent of any environmental damage.
Overall, northwest Ohio has reaped environmental and economic benefits from a well-managed, efficient, and effective port authority. With this region in need of every available job, a vote FOR Issue 1 is the right choice.