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Published: Tuesday, 8/17/2004

Lucas County to get bulk of port levy proceeds

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County property owners pay the tab, so economic development within the county should get the largest share of a levy that helps fund such efforts, officials decided yesterday.

With less than three months until voters decide Nov. 2 on whether to renew a 0.4-mill levy for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, the directors of the port authority and the Regional Growth Partnership chose simplicity from among several proposed plans for reorganizing economic development efforts in the county.

Most of the plans the boards reviewed suggested unifying local economic development efforts.

As a result, the boards voted yesterday to:

• Add a new division to the RGP that would focus its efforts on Toledo and Lucas County and change the partnership s funding structure.

• Give the new Toledo-Lucas County division $650,000 from the $1.35 million in port levy proceeds the RGP receives to concentrate on economic development efforts.

• Set aside $350,000 in competitive grant money for Community Development Corporations to improve neighborhoods.

• Give the RGP $350,000 for job creation efforts in 10 other regional counties that focus on attracting high-tech companies.

• Appoint Ken Dobson, who serves on the port and growth partnership boards, as informal liaison to local governments to discuss how best to unify the city and county public sector economic development efforts.

The decision follows phase one of a plan created by a local task force that formed after a consultant hired by local government last year slammed economic development efforts as scattered and ineffective. Selling the levy at the ballot box, the task force recommended, was the all-important first step.

The decision hopefully addresses complaints from Lucas County voters, elected officials, and some board members that it s unfair that only Lucas County property owners pay a levy that goes to the growth partnership to create jobs for an 11-county region. The 0.4-mill port levy equals $7.29 cents of property tax on a $100,000 house and would raise $2.5 million if renewed. None of the other counties pays a levy.

This is a way to go forward rather than a formal governing act, said Thomas Palmer, port board chairman. It needs to be simple; it needs to be understood.

Under the current setup, the city and the county have their own economic development offices, and the Toledo CDC Alliance uses federal block grant money to improve city neighborhoods.

The port authority, which collects the levy, operates Toledo Express Airport, the train station, and the Port of Toledo, and also acts as an agent for businesses seeking low-interest loans. The port authority directs about $1.35 million of its levy money to the growth partnership, which fills out the rest of its $2.75 million annual budget with donations from the private sector.

What to do with the growth partnership s share of the port levy has been at the crux of the larger economic development debate in the community and among elected officials, board members, and voters.

With time running short until election day, the strategy decided yesterday intentionally left unanswered the politically charged questions of who would serve on a newly organized RGP board and whether the city and county economic development offices would merge.

First, the message, then the details, they said.

I could care less who sits on the board; they re all community people, said port board member G. Opie Rollison. The key to the whole ball game is, how do you pass the levy?

The boards also rejected changing the growth partnership s name to reflect a new focus on Toledo and Lucas County, deciding that the RGP should continue to embrace, and not shed, its regional nature, several board members said.

Keep this thing as simple as possible, said RGP board member Harlton G. Dunbar. The citizens understand the benefits of [regionalism] more than we give them credit for. In the big picture, we re all in this together.

Contact Christopher Kirkpatrick at:kirkpatrick@theblade.comor 419-724-6077.


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