By Tim Cox
The proposed Rotary West Bank Walkway in Celina remains in limbo, and it is unlikely to be feasible to fund it unless the project is broken into phases, city officials learned Monday.
The tax increment finance (TIF) district set up along West Bank Road and the lakefront corridor apparently will not generate enough revenue to make the annual payments on the mile-long concrete path, estimated to cost $2 million.
At least one major property owner in the TIF district plans to seek a reduction in property values, which will hinder real estate tax collections. The owner is expected to seek a decrease in the site's valuation through the county Board of Revision, but that application has not yet been filed.
City officials did not discuss the issue in depth at Monday's council meeting. It did come up during a discussion on the use of TIF money for another project when city administration officials divulged information about the potential shortfall in TIF revenue.
Now, the city's bond counsel, Seasongood & Mayer, is reviewing the projected TIF revenue to see what the city can expect to borrow against the TIF fund. The expected downward change in future TIF revenue is not necessarily fatal to the walkway project, city consultant Kent Bryan said.
Bryan told city council members the project almost certainly would have to be split into phases but did not offer more details. Mayor Sharon LaRue said she believes the project can be accomplished in only two phases.
Council members plan to meet April 17 as a committee-of-the-whole to discuss the ramifications of the revenue issue and how it will affect the walkway, which has suffered a series of fits and starts throughout its two-year planning process.
There already were concerns prior to Monday's revelation that the project is too much for the city to handle financially. Some officials have long worried that the rising costs of fuel and construction materials could make the walkway project almost impossible to pull off based on current figures.
Additionally, the project was held up most recently as city officials pondered how to perform and how to pay for necessary wetlands mitigation needed before the Ohio EPA grants a license for the walkway. The creation of at least three acres of wetlands is necessary because the city would fill in a 20-foot-wide swath of the lake to make room for the path and a grassy area along West Bank Road.
Council members months ago approved issuing special revenue bonds to pay for the bulk of the project. At the time, they expected the Grand Lake TIF district to generate enough money to make the estimated $125,000 annual payments. In a TIF, property taxes on new development are diverted from tax coffers into separate accounts to pay for infrastructure and other public improvements within that same district.
The project also has a $250,000 state budget line item grant and has received a $150,000 pledge from the Celina Rotary Club over the next 10 years.
The club already has paid $30,000 of that donation toward the design of the walkway.
City council members also long ago authorized administration officials to seek construction bids for the project.
But no money has been borrowed and no bids sought so far because of the mitigation issue.