By PAT ROYSE
Celina's proposed West Bank Rotary walkway is still in the works in spite of recent setbacks, city councilors learned Monday.
At a special council meeting of the whole, city consultant Kent Bryan told council members that most of the mile-long proposed walkway could still be affordable if it was done in phases.
He suggested the walkway be completed from the West Bank Park boat ramps north to the spillway, a stretch he termed phase A. Phase B would start near the shelter house at Main Street and Lake Shore Drive and go south past the lighthouse to a curb cut near Carter Villa Restaurant.
The remaining phase C is not affordable at this time, Bryan reminded the council. He said it could be done later.
The most serious drain on the predicted financing of the total project stems from a reduction in property values for the condominiums on West Bank Road along the proposed walkway. The drop in valuation is reducing the projected contribution money to the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund. The TIF fund money is to be used to make the bond payments on the walkway project, among other things. In a TIF, property taxes on new developments are diverted from tax coffers into separate accounts to pay for infrastructure and other improvements within the same district.
Mercer County Auditor Mark Giesige said the particular property tax reduction was based on the fact that two-thirds of the units in the development are still empty and unsold after nearly three years, and the sales prices of the units that have sold were lower than the original asking price. He said the owner company did not request a tax reduction.
Council learned that 51 of 68 units are unsold.
Bryan said $175,000 was deposited last year into the walkway TIF fund. Some of that has been spent, with $15,000 going to design and $57,000 to wetlands mitigation.
He is not sure how much the TIF fund will generate under the new circumstances but Bryan is guessing conservatively about $100,000 to $110,000 per year. Estimates state that $125,000 would be needed for annual payments on the project.
The city's bond counsel, Seasongood & Mayer, is reviewing the projected TIF revenues to see what the city can expect to borrow based on the new projections.
The proposed walkway was projected to cost $2 million in its entirety. It was to be financed by a grant from the state for $250,000, a $150,000 pledge from the Celina Rotary Club and bonds to be repaid at an estimated rate of $125,000. The latter is now considered an impossibility.
"We do not have enough to do the whole way from the lighthouse to the boat ramps," Byran told councilors. He reminded them they had already agreed not to do anything the city couldn't afford.
Bryan said the city may be able to afford to borrow $1 million under the estimated new projected TIF payments to pay for a walkway project done in phases.
The TIF fund reduction may be the most recent impact on the project, but it is not the only one.
Bryan said the first was a change in the TIF law put into effect on Jan. 1 of this year. He said it took the planners and council about six months prior to the deadline to work through it and make sure the city had financing for the proposed walkway.
Further into the project, city officials learned the stone that would be used to increase the seawall supporting the walkway had increased by 70 percent over their estimate of the cost.
Byran said he has been talking with Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) about using a less expensive, but sometimes smaller rock, called shot rock. It is the same stone and same quality but not graded by size.
Because ODNR has no grading standards for shot rock, it is taking some convincing to get approval in writing from them, he said.
The project was held up also as the city pondered how to perform and pay for a necessary wetlands mitigation needed before Ohio EPA would grant a permit for the walkway.
The mitigation is required because the proposed walkway requires that a 20-foot swath of the lake be filled in to make room for the path and a grassy area along West Bank Road.
The council agreed to meet again as a whole to keep up with the progress on the walkway project. The date is to be announced.