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Published: Sunday, 11/2/2008

7% of agency s budget hinges on levy renewal

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The vast majority of the $34 million or so that the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority spends each year is drawn from rents paid by the operators and users of its facilities and fees paid by clients of its financing programs. But about $2.4 million, or 7 percent, comes from a property tax the agency collects in Lucas County, and that five-year, 0.4-mill tax is up for renewal this year. It s Issue 41 on Tuesday s ballot.

In recent times, the port authority has assigned those funds for improving its facilities and acquiring land to support future port development. Furthermore, $350,000 is dedicated annually to a grant program intended to promote small businesses and job growth through support for neighborhood revitalization and environmental cleanup.

During a levy campaign kickoff event on Sept. 16, William Carroll, chairman of the port s board of directors, said the levy revenue has served as matching funds for about $43 million in state and federal grants the port has obtained for its projects. The event was held inside the high-bay fabrication shop at the Toledo Shipyard, a $5 million facility completed last winter using port funds and government grants.

Levy revenue also is a source of financing for the port authority s recent $3.4 million purchase of the former Gulf Oil refinery site on Front Street, a 181-acre property the agency hopes to redevelop as terminals and warehousing for waterborne cargo.

As a renewal, the levy s collection basis would not change if it is approved. The $6.60 per year that the owner of a home valued at $100,000 pays would remain. One mill equals $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value, but real estate is not assessed at full market value.

Lucas County voters last renewed the levy in 2004, and the tax does not expire until the end of next year. Port directors considered waiting until next year to place the renewal on the ballot but decided during a July 31 meeting that the advantages of seeking approval this year outweighed the drawbacks.

Primary among those drawbacks are the weak economic climate in Toledo and turmoil at the port authority surrounding its former president, James Hartung, who was fired Aug. 1 after an investigation revealed he had had an affair with a lobbyist he hired on the port s behalf to represent it and other local development interests in Washington.

But Opie Rollison, the board s vice chairman, said he believes there is general positive sentiment about how the port uses the levy revenue. The community likes how we re spending that money, for greenfield restoration and infrastructure.

Mr. Hartung is appealing the port board s finding of willful misconduct, which denied him an estimated $100,000 in severance, plus nine months continuing health benefits, which his contract otherwise provided. The port authority has hired two executive search firms to identify candidates to replace him.

Contact David Patch at:dpatch@theblade.comor 419-724-6094.



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