Moments before abstaining from a vote on a financing package for a senior living center, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board member Carty Finkbeiner yesterday criticized such Catholic-run facilities for what he claimed was a history of paying low wages.
His observation came as the port board was considering approval of up to $45 million in bond financing for St. Mary of the Woods, a senior living project in Avon, Ohio. The project would be owned by the nonprofit Franciscan Sisters of Chicago Service Corp., which operates 13 senior communities in the Midwest serving about 2,700 seniors.
The port authority has a contract with the state to serve as its financial agent, overseeing approval of low-interest bond financing for projects in a 30-county area in northern Ohio.
The authority incurs no liability or risk for repayment on the bonds, while collecting an annual fee on the St. Mary project of $25,000 or 1/8th of 1 percent of the outstanding debt on the bonds, whichever is less, said Tom Schlachter, chairman of the port board's finance committee.
"This is a wonderful project, I'm sure, but as everybody knows, the good Catholic communities have a way of having less overhead," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "For example, what if it turned out the average being paid per job was $5.50 [per hour]. I'm not saying it is, but let's just say. ... I could see some people around this table being embarrassed and uncomfortable that we had signed off on 10 projects where something less than the prevailing wage was being paid on a full-time basis."
Julie Secviar, senior vice president for strategic resources for the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago Service Corp., said Mr. Finkbeiner - who is an Episcopalian - was wrong.
She said the wages paid by her company are at or above the industry's market. If anything, she said, nonprofit senior operations pay higher than comparable for-profit companies.
"It has nothing to do with Catholic people," she said.
One of the tenets of her company and her Catholic faith is to show staff respect, Ms. Secviar said. Pope John Paul II has specifically called for Catholic employers to offer "fair and just wages," she added.
Mr. Finkbeiner, a former Toledo mayor, has become known over his years as a public official for eyebrow-raising comments. His remark several years ago that deaf people should be encouraged to move into noise-impacted homes near Toledo Express Airport gained national attention. He made his Catholic wage comment as part of a discussion in which he suggested that either the port authority should re-evaluate its role as a bond agency for the state or businesses looking for financing should be evaluated beyond their balance sheets.
"Is this a business [approving bond applications] that we really want to be into seriously?"
The extended discussion exposed concerns about an identity crisis. The agency collects levy dollars from Lucas County residents in part to pay for local job-creation efforts. But as a middleman for the state on bond and loan programs, it oversees financing that can be used for development in areas outside northwest Ohio.
In generally discussing the bond program, board member Opie Rollison questioned whether the port authority had "drifted away" from its mission of local economic development.
"We're in the business of being a bank and getting a fee. Are we drifting our resources away?" he said. "Are we just here to make money? If that's our role, that's fine. If we're just here to finance, I'm OK with that, but let's put it down [on paper]."
Mr. Schlachter said the port needs the revenue generated by its deal with the state and that should be part of a movement by the port authority toward self-sufficiency. That way, he said, future port levies like the 0.4-mill levy renewal on Tuesday's ballot may not be needed.
"We need to create dollars," he said. "It's in the wheel house of our mission, as far as I'm concerned. And I hope the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and the Jews all catch on too."
Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick