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Published: Tuesday, 8/10/2004

Talks slated on economic development

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Talk of becoming partners on economic development with Toledo brings up bad memories for Maumee Mayor Tim Wagener.

He said he's willing to listen to a plan proposed Friday by Toledo Mayor Jack Ford that would merge the city and Lucas County economic development offices and create almost $1.6 million in combined resources.

But Mr. Wagener remembers a deal gone awry and a lawsuit won by Toledo. He gets a little queasy thinking about the tax checks his city sends quarterly to Toledo because of the suit over a special economic development tax zone, he said.

"Six months before I was elected, that jumped up and bit us. Nothing is so dangerous that it can't be talked about," Mr. Wagener said, choosing his words carefully. "But there's a lot of history, and any future working together, right now, as far as I could see, would be on a case-by-case basis."

Mr. Ford's merger plan is one of about five proposals on how to streamline economic development efforts in the county to more effectively attract new businesses and create jobs.

The boards of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and the Regional Growth Partnership plan to discuss the various proposals Monday, including how best to spend a 0.4-mill port authority levy that brings in about $2.5 million a year for job creation. The levy, which is on the November ballot, costs the owner of a $100,000 home $7.29 a year.

The port authority directs about $1.3 million of the money to the growth partnership, which markets an 11-county region, including Lucas County. But at issue for some is that only Lucas County residents pay the tax.

Port authority board Chairman Tom W. Palmer said yesterday that the growth partnership could be changed so it's clear that a defined stream of port levy dollars are spent directly on Lucas County, an important issue for voters, he said.

"We need to demonstrate that the concerns of Lucas County voters are well understood," he said. "It doesn't mean we necessarily create a new agency."

Mr. Ford wants the merged

agency to have a board of directors he would chair. The mayors of Maumee, Oregon, and Sylvania also would be on the board, along with other private and public sector representatives, under his plan.

But Mr. Wagener and Oregon Mayor Marge Brown, while they're willing to talk, said for the most part, they like the current arrangement.

As it stands now, the growth partnership uses levy money to market Lucas County and 10 other counties. The mayors also use their own economic development departments or other community agencies to market themselves.

"I'd really have to be sold" on a merger, Ms. Brown said.

Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough said he believes economic development efforts in the county need to be unified. Toledo is the logical leader because of its size, he said.

"It makes sense for the mayor to be on the board, himself, and having a leadership role. The proposal does meet my criteria that Sylvania have an oversight role for our taxpayers' dollars," he said.

On the question of the levy, the three mayors agree that they would only want to tweak how it is spent and not change the regional nature of the marketing effort.

"Any kind of industry that comes to northwest Ohio benefits the entire region. We have to convince all the other people in the county that we have to look at it that way," Ms. Brown said. "I will work very hard for the port levy."

Mr. Wagener said uniting with Toledo's economic development department and pooling resources might be best for the county.

"If there was a way to bring all sides together without any of the suburban areas feeling like they are second class [that would work]. But all of us, we have to be on our guard," Mr. Wagener said. "Toledo took us to court over a disagreement from 1991. We get concerned about partnering when our friends can sue."

Toledo and Maumee agreed in 2002 to settle a lawsuit over how tax revenues are distributed from the joint economic development zone that includes land Toledo bought in the 1980s. Maumee agreed to pay Toledo $1 million to settle claims of past-due income taxes, and to give Toledo just less than half of 1 percent in income tax from property Toledo owns in the city of Maumee.

Mr. Wagener has said the agreement costs Maumee $277,000 a year.

Contact Christopher Kirpatrick

at ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6077.



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