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Published: Thursday, 7/29/2004

Port board considers levy options, new agency

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Economic development leaders are trying to decide how money raised through a proposed 0.4-mill renewal levy would be spent, if approved, and who might control a proposed new agency focused on job creation in Lucas County.

Tom Palmer, chairman of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board of directors, said two specific proposals focused on adding more private money to the equation likely would be introduced and debated in mid-August.

Mr. Palmer refused to detail the proposals, but said the two ideas grew out of a consultant's suggestion in the spring that Toledo-Lucas County run its own agency funded with proceeds from the port authority's 0.4-mill levy.

The levy, which would raise

about $2.5 million a year, would be on the November ballot, and voters and area elected officials want specifics about how it would be spent, area elected officials say.

"Any economic development system is going to have to address the economic needs of Lucas County. It's also going to have to address regional needs and satisfy those in the region," Mr. Palmer said. "[It will be] presented very clearly, with definite choices.

"There are those who may favor focusing first on getting the private sector more actively involved, but also realizing it has to partner up with the public sector," he said.

Mr. Palmer said leveraging more private money to pay for job creation programs and incentives in the region is one of the loudest suggestions he hears. By September, a plan should be refined and a campaign message crafted for the voting public, he said.

The levy proceeds are now roughly split between the port authority and the Regional Growth Partnership, which was created 10 years ago to boost an 11-county region, including Lucas County.

But Lucas County property owners are tired of footing the bill, several elected officials and others have said. Only Lucas County pays a property levy for the growth partnership.

About half the money goes to the growth partnership and makes up almost half of its $2.75 million annual budget.

A voter-approved renewal would maintain the port levy bill for a $100,000 home at its current rate of $7.29 a year.

As of yesterday, the port authority and the growth partnership boards still had not set an exact date for the joint August meeting to discuss the levy and future of economic development agencies in Lucas County.

Area elected officials were questioning whether time was too short to sell the levy effectively to the public.

"I think it's critically important that suburban communities have a role in economic development," said Sylvania Councilman Mark Luetke, who also is a partner in a marketing firm that sells levy proposals to the public. His firm is not involved in the port authority's levy campaign.

"Any levy's success is directly tied to the reassurance the public and voters can get about specifics - the more specifics in the proposal, the better."

Deciding who would serve on a new board that focuses on Lucas County economic development could become contentious, with some area leaders concerned Toledo may take a lion's share of the representation.

Sylvania council President Barbara Sears said she expected more specifics by now, since the more general proposal of a unified Lucas County agency was presented more than a month ago. "We need to feel comfortable that cities other than the city of Toledo have good representation," she said.

Like others, Oregon Mayor Marge Brown said she wants to see more of the levy money spent on Lucas County.

"I don't want that money to go for consultants. I think the money should be there for us to use for development purposes," she said.

Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough said he likes the growth partnership but is open to other systems. He also said it would be natural for Toledo to have the most representation on a new agency board because it has the most residents in the county.

"Sylvania needs a strong area economy to continue to be a strong city. But for the most part, our residents are employed outside Sylvania. I haven't seen any specifics. It's possible that each community would have a representative, but that makes for a pretty large board," he said.

"Oregon and Maumee are in the same position as Sylvania. I'm not displeased with the way the [growth partnership] has worked. But the comments I'm receiving are [property owners] don't want to be the only [people in the region] paying for something that benefits several counties. We already do that for several other entities, like the zoo and the library, for instance. It seems to be a pattern that people don't like."

Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, who was at the Democratic National Convention in Boston yesterday and could not be reached, said a month ago he would support a new unified agency only if he could appoint several of the members to the new board.

"I'm not going to support the consolidation unless I have the good sense that the mayor has strong appointive power to this body," he said.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick

at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6077.



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