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Published: Wednesday, 6/16/2004

Port board mulls levy renewal push

BY MIKE WILKINSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

If the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority wants to renew its 0.4-mill levy this fall, it will have to make changes in how it uses the money and how it crafts its pro-levy message, port board members said yesterday.

In short, they said, they must keep the money local, and keep the message simple.

"We have to be clear to the community so we don't confuse them," said Tom Palmer, chairman of the port board.

Board members met yesterday in a special session to discuss a proposal for retooling how the community focuses on economic development. Mr. Palmer has been meeting with numerous groups regarding the effort.

Those discussions have produced a proposal to create an organization that focuses on economic development in Toledo and Lucas County. No final plan has been developed.

The proposal, which tentatively calls for the creation of the Toledo-Lucas County Community Improvement Corp., is an attempt to address concerns that not enough attention is paid to the county where levy voters live.

The levy raises about $2.4 million a year and was last approved by Lucas County voters in 1999. The port board sends $1.35 million of the levy proceeds to the Regional Growth Partnership (RGP),

which provides economic development services to Lucas County and 10 other counties in northwest Ohio, from Erie County to the east to the Indiana border to the west.

That funding formula has come under fire. It is at the center of the discussions for developing the new economic development system and it drew the most criticism yesterday.

"What you have here is Lucas County funded and regionally focused," said board member R. Michael Frank, a Toledo attorney. He said the other counties should pay more for the services - or not benefit from them.

"If they don't pay, they shouldn't play," he said.

Although the counties contribute to the RGP through the Northwest Ohio Regional Economic Development agency, only Lucas County has a levy that helps fund the RGP. Other counties raise economic development dollars but spend them locally, Mr. Frank said.

"They get all the services [from the RGP] but don't pay for it," he said. "It's like no taxation with representation."

But other port board members defended the RGP, saying Toledo and Lucas County benefit from a regional approach. A factory built in southern Monroe County or northern Wood County would help Toledo, board member Tom Schlachter said.

And RGP officials have said, while the agency represents 11 counties, it focuses most of its efforts on Lucas County.

"You don't fall off the earth when you leave Lucas County," Mr. Schlachter said. "I think part of our problem is our parochialism."

In a wide-ranging 90-minute discussion, board members also talked about the proposal to change how the port authority uses its economic development money. But Carty Finkbeiner, a board member and a former Toledo mayor, said the port board should focus on the levy. He said it would be difficult to come up with a final plan and then educate voters about it before the Nov. 2 election.

Bruce Baumhower, port board member and president of United Auto Workers Local 12 in Toledo, disagreed, saying the port board must tackle the issue before November.

"I don't know how we can focus on the levy until we focus on these questions," said Mr. Baumhower said.

Although no decision was made yesterday, board members appear unlikely to ask for a replacement levy. A replacement would raise an additional $1.2 million and cost taxpayers more than a renewal.

Mr. Palmer said preliminary polling shows voters are unwilling to approve a replacement levy, but are willing to support a renewal. Under the renewal, the owner of a home valued at $100,000 would pay about $10 a year in taxes.

Contact Mike Wilkinson

at mwilkinson@theblade.com

or 419-724-6104.



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