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Monday, July 1st, 2013

Lake Facilities Authority approved

Move allows local officials to seek tax, receive donations

By William Kincaid
COLUMBUS - A new legal funding entity called the Lake Facilities Authority was authorized Sunday as part of the state's $62 billion operating budget signed by Gov. John Kasich.
The LFA will grant local officials authority to accept grants, place levies on the ballot, receive land from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, sell anticipation and revenue bonds and own and operate algae-mitigation facilities.
All LFA activity must be directly connected to algae mitigation.
Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, said he's happy because locals will have an opportunity to create a long-term restoration plan for Grand Lake.
"This is a long-term situation. This is not a quick fix," Buchy said this morning. "This is setting in motion a major extension of county government to restore the lake."
However, Buchy emphasized the LFA is not a new government entity. Proposals for new taxes would have to be approved at the polls by those who live in the watershed and surrounding impacted areas.
The six commissioners in Mercer and Auglaize counties, who will serve as the LFA board of directors, must now pass resolutions to create the LFA, Buchy said. Then they will appoint members of political subdivisions to that board.
The LFA will be empowered to designate which areas near the lake are most affected by the lake's poor condition.
Any proposed property tax levies will be capped at 1-mill. Auglaize and Mercer counties' current 3 percent lodging tax could be raised to a maximum of 5 percent. It presently is paid by 12 area hotels to support the two-county visitors' bureau.
First and foremost, the LFA is a legal vehicle for local parties to seek additional state and federal grants, Mercer County Community Development Director Jared Ebbing said this morning.
The current Lake Restoration Commission cannot legally apply for or receive grants or donations for projects to help reduce the lake's toxic blue-green algae.
Instead of Mercer County Commissions having to be pressured to apply for grants, the LFA can now take the lead, Ebbing said.
People who get hung-up on the taxing component of the LFA are jumping the gun, Ebbing said, explaining taxes may be sought down the road if matching funds can't be gathered to meet the requirements of grants sought in the future.
"We're terribly excited," said Milt Miller of the LRC said this morning. "It's the next step for us for a number of reasons, and we're going to be boring in and doing all that we need to do to get it in place now."
The LFA must be put together in 60 days, Miller said.
The LFA designation provides a legal status so those involved are not just passionate volunteers anymore, Miller said, adding the LFA can own properties that no longer need to be registered under the name of the county or a township.
Lake restoration initiatives will be streamlined through the creation of the LFA, as the grant application process will be expedited and grant dollars can be augmented with local money generated through levies, Miller said.
"In terms of a funding mechanism, it's important because all of us, I think, want the lake fixed as fast as humanly possible," he said.
Miller thanked Buchy and Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, for supporting the amendment, as well as the Kasich administration for allowing local officials to help lead in implementing the best solutions for lake restoration.
"Here's a situation where they're saying, 'you take the reins,' " Miller said about the LFA.
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