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Published: Thursday, 8/5/2004

Levy proposal puts focus on the agency's structure


Less than 90 days until the November election, economic development officials are divided over whether a separate agency just for Toledo and Lucas County should be formed.

Meanwhile, an economic development working group has created two proposals that would change the structure of the Regional Growth Partnership, which uses Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority levy dollars for job creation in an 11-county region, including Lucas County. How the development officials proceed could prove critical for the port authority's levy renewal, on the ballot in November.

One proposal would create a separate agency within the growth partnership responsible for spending levy money just on Lucas County, said William J. Brennan, chairman of the growth partnership board of directors.

The other proposal would use levy dollars to create a more independent agency just for Lucas County, he said.

"So there is true accountability. You have a growth partnership board structure and underneath it two distinct staffs with one that port levy money would flow through and focus on Lucas County, and one focused on the regional," he said.

Mr. Brennan, who is president of Associated General Contractors of Northwest Ohio, said he did not have details. And Thomas W. Palmer, chairman of the port authority's board of directors and a lawyer with Marshall & Melhorn, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

The proposals will be presented Aug. 16 at a joint meeting of the port authority and the growth partnership boards at the Toledo Botanical Garden.

The port authority created the growth partnership a decade ago to focus on job creation in the region.

But only Lucas County property owners pay the levy, a source of stress for some voters and elected officials who think it's unfair.

The renewal would raise $2.5 million a year and, if approved, would maintain a tax

bill of $7.29 extra for the owner of a $100,000 home. The port authority and the growth partnership currently split port levy revenue. The growth partnership's share covers about 49 percent of its $2.75 million annual budget.

Talk of a new agency began in earnest after a consultant's report last spring suggested creating one just for Lucas County and Toledo. The report cost local government $134,000.

But Larry A. Davenport, vice chairman of the growth partnership board and a partner with Ernst & Young, said yesterday he doesn't want a new agency and another layer of bureaucracy.

"We don't have enough administrative money to spread it around. The more we spread money around for administration, the less we have for economic development," he said.

Mr. Davenport said the growth partnership has done a consistent job of representing Lucas County, so a spin-off agency is unnecessary.

"Lucas County has gotten more than it's proportional share from the agency," he said. "The effort is made first, each and every time, to look out for Lucas County. But Lucas County doesn't often have what the company is looking for - particularly greenfields [usable land]."

Port authority board member Bruce Baumhower, who is president of the UAW Local 12, said he is worried that a basic message hasn't yet reached Lucas County voters. Mr. Baumhower also serves on the growth partnership board.

"My concern is the levy vote is getting closer and closer. The overarching [message] has to be: Your levy dollar [will be] used for Lucas County development," he said.

Still, Mr. Baumhower said he understands economic development doesn't strictly fall along county boundaries.

"There's private money in Lucas County from developers who clearly benefit from building a plant in Wood County, for example, because they still get contracts. I do support promoting the entire region, but it's hard for me to explain to Lucas County voters that they're paying for that effort and no one else is," he said.

Port board member G. Opie Rollison, a health care lawyer, said voters understand creating a new framework for future economic development efforts requires deliberation and time.

"I don't want it put together just to meet the levy deadline. We spent a lot of money on that consultant's report, and I don't want it to go to waste," he said.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick

at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6077.

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