Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Port levy for neighbors sought

Lucas County Commissioner Harry Barlos envisions a port levy for job creation paid not only by taxpayers in his county, but also from counties across the region.

To that end, several weeks ago he scheduled a Sept. 15 meeting in Perrysburg Township with commissioners in bordering Fulton, Ottawa, and Wood counties to test the waters, he said.

Only Lucas County property owners pay a 0.4-mill port levy that pays for some regional job programs. The levy, up for renewal Nov. 2, and the effectiveness of programs it funds have been debated in the last year.

Mr. Barlos, who is running for re-election, said the port levy campaign and debate over who should control the money have obscured the point that neighboring counties must cooperate or risk the continued loss of manufacturing jobs.

I just want to have a casual conversation about our economic needs and collaboration, he said. Mr. Barlos intends to ask his counterparts whether they would push for levies in their counties for economic development.

Pete Gerken, a Toledo councilman challenging Mr. Barlos in the commissioners race, said Lucas County first must do a better job of spending its own economic development dollars. I think we need to get our own house in order. I am certainly cognizant that we live in a world economy, but this is a first-things-first issue for me, he said. The issue in front of us is getting a consolidated, focused economic development plan for Lucas County.

Local economic development officials have explored how to reform local economic development efforts since a consultant hired by local government criticized job creation efforts as scattered, ineffective, and in need of consolidation.

As it stands now, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority collects about $2.5 million in levy money and gives about $1.35 million of it to the Regional Growth Partnership, which tries to create jobs in an 11-county region.

Mr. Gerken also has a plan for reorganization. It would form a board of top elected officials, a suburban representative, and someone from the private sector to oversee local job creation programs.

His was one of five plans considered Monday at a joint meeting of the boards of the port authority and growth partnership. The boards voted to give more levy money to Lucas County. But members said a more definitive consolidation plan would come after the election.

Under his plan, Mr. Barlos said levy-paying counties, the port authority, and the growth partnership would fund an organization that would offer support to local efforts. The cities of the region, such as Toledo and Maumee, would continue to work on their own to lure jobs.

Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber, a Republican, said the type of cooperation Mr. Barlos suggested is paramount to the future growth of the county and region. But discussing multicounty port levies is premature, she said.

Regional cooperation is something we need to do more. My whole disappointment with what we are doing right now is that politics is playing more of a role, she said.

County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak could not be reached for comment.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrickat: ckirkpatrick@theblade.comor 419-724-6077.

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