Wednesday, December 16th, 2009
By Shelley Grieshop
Celina seeks county partnership for new entity
  The city of Celina wants to partner with Mercer County officials to create a Grand Lake Port Authority - a new government entity focusing initially on long-term improvements to Grand Lake.
As a port authority, the city and county would increase their chances of securing USDA grants and others, as well as low- and no-interest loans for projects, Celina Community Development Director Kent Bryan told county commissioners on Tuesday.
Currently, there are 48 port authorities in Ohio; the closest is located in Allen County.
Commissioners were skeptical of the idea and subsequently threw in a few suggestions of their own. At the conclusion of the meeting they opted to gather more information before making any decision.
During the pitch by Bryan, Mayor Sharon LaRue and city Councilman Rick Bachelor, commissioners voiced their concern with start-up costs that could hit six figures.
"We're cutting all our budgets (for 2010) right now by 10 percent, putting people on furloughs, doing wage cuts ... We don't have it (funding) to put up," Commissioner Jerry Laffin responded.
Bryan admitted seed money would be necessary from both parties, particularly to obtain grants. Many state and federal grants require matching funds from recipients.
Commissioners suggested the port authority include the city of St. Marys and Auglaize County since the initial focus will be the lake and they share in the watershed. The addition of the neighbors to the east would help reduce costs by sharing expenses, commissioners noted.
All three commissioners sought reassurance from Bryan that a port authority wouldn't be established just to benefit the lake and the city of Celina.
"I work for the whole county," Commissioner Bob Nuding said.
Commissioners said they'd demand board representation from each community in the county so everyone can benefit from its existence.
"We could, but it will take longer," Bryan said, adding the formation process will include drafting resolutions and establishing rules before becoming an official governmental body.
Laffin accused Bryan of trying to "hurry this through" in order to beat deadlines for grant and loan applications for pending projects. Bryan didn't deny the accusation.
"Yes, I'm trying to push it forward," he said.
The city's proposed lake cleanup project involves dredging and includes the likelihood of investment from private industry, Bryan said. The only other project discussed Tuesday was a proposal to develop a centralized manure processing facility to produce electricity.
State and federal officials have told Bryan that plenty of funding will be available in 2010. He also was told the city's chances of receiving lake improvement funds would increase substantially if a port authority is established, he added.
"I think it would be better for us if there was one entity they (federal and state officials) could look to for matters of the lake," he added.
Bryan said he hopes the public realizes "the state is not coming in here to solve the lake problem for us." He noted that area revenue is being lost because of the poor lake economy.
"We have to do something," he added.
Commissioners agreed to set up a meeting with their counterparts in Auglaize County and city officials promised to contact St. Marys officials to do the same. No meeting dates were set.

What is a port authority?:
In Ohio, port authorities are government entities created by political subdivisions such as cities, counties and townships. They can construct facilities, issue bonds, make loans and sell or buy real and personal property, as well as possess many powers similar to other local governments in Ohio.
Their functions are many and can include the development of industrial and commercial properties, sources for bond financing and administrators of community and economic development programs.
One key function of a port authority - something a city cannot do - is to sell and lease publicly-owned property. Municipalities and counties most often sell or lease land through public bid.
Port authorities also are able to perform functions across jurisdictions so they can serve as a conduit for intergovernmental agreements and functions.
Port authorities fall under a variety of checks and balances. The political subdivisions that create them are responsible for appointing board members and have the power to change the charter. Additionally, the state auditor must audit each and publish their findings every two years.
All actions, meetings and dataof port authorities are open to the public.
- Shelley Grieshop
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