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Published: Thursday, 8/15/2002

Improvement district's feasibility is questioned

State auditors question whether an agency created to bolster development near I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike can remain solvent for long.

The 5-year-old Rossford Transportation Improvement District hasn't made money, continues to run a deficit, and hasn't made all its debt payments, according to a 21-page audit released Tuesday.

“Accordingly, there is substantial doubt about the district's ability to continue as a going concern,” auditors said in the report.

At the behest of Rossford officials, Wood County commissioners created the district in 1997 to build roads and water and sewer lines throughout an area dubbed the “Crossroads of America” - roughly bordered by I-75, the turnpike, State Rt. 795, U.S. 20, and Lime City Road.

The project was supposed to be anchored by an ice arena-concert amphitheater to be built by another specially created government agency, the Rossford Arena Amphitheater Authority. Both agencies were staffed with Rossford city officials.

Under the plan, property owners - including the arena amphitheater authority - would be assessed fees to pay off the road debt over 20 years. Developers would pay tap-in fees to cover the $1.3 million in water and sewer lines costs.

Perrysburg Township invested $6 million in the project, while Rossford has issued $3 million in bonds.

But the plan has hit key stumbling blocks:

  • The partially built arena/ amphitheater stalled more than two years ago after bond buyers refused to loan money at low enough interest rates to build it.

  • Other property owners have filed lawsuits to block their assessments, claiming either that the transportation improvement district had no right to assess the money or that the district assessed their property too much.

    That has tied up the assessments in court and boosted attorney fees, both of which have hurt the district's cash flow.

    In 2001, $138,000 was due from property owners, but the agency collected only $37,000.

    By the end of 2001, the district had a deficit of $1.6 million and could pay less than a third of the interest payments it owed. It also hadn't paid an $18,000 bill to the state auditors' office for the last audit.

    Despite auditors' concerns, local officials are hopeful for a turnaround.

    County commissioners are expected to put the finishing touches today on restructuring the district board by adding two new members: Bob McOmber, a former Bowling Green school board member, and Luci Flannery, a Perrysburg Township real estate agent.

    It will turn what used to be a five-member board - appointed solely by the county - into an eight-member board that's controlled jointly by the county, Rossford, and the township.

    The county gave up its power to distance itself from the agency, said county Administrator Andrew Kalmar. But he said the restructuring also provides new faces that officials hope can offer fresh insights into retooling the finances.

    “Knowing some of the people who are involved with it, they will work hard to make sure it doesn't fail,” he said.

    The original five board members have remained, ranging from Rossford city officials to township Clerk John Hrosko.

    Mr. Hrosko said they're not ready to give up either. After all, some agency needs to collect the assessments and pay off the debt, and he expects the agency to follow the advice of auditors to come up with a plan to repay the debt on time.

    “The new board needs to come in, put all those heads together, and figure out a way to make this solvent,” he said.



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