Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Butler Co. weighs new port authority

Cities hear commissioners' proposal

By Perry Schaible
Enquirer contributor

HAMILTON - Representatives from eight Butler County cities and townships crowded into the conference room of the Government Services Center on Monday to discuss creation of a countywide port authority to spur development.

Officials were invited to the informational session to learn about the proposal being discussed by county commissioners and Hamilton city officials.

The idea is to establish a port authority, as 31 other Ohio communities have done, to help development throughout the county.

Participation would be voluntary, commissioners said.

"There's no way that we have any mind to drive it down the throat of any entity in the county," Commissioner Chuck Furmon said.

He asked city and township officials to discuss the proposal and come back to the commissioners within three weeks.

Gary Sheets, legal counsel to the county commissioners, described a port authority as "the way through the woods" because it can get around most rules that typically bind government.

Port authorities have several functions that community improvement corporations do not. They can appropriate property levy taxes and charge fees for services.

Melissa Koehler, director of the West Chester Development Council, said the idea could be beneficial for the township.

"A port authority would be a way for major projects that would have an impact county-wide to be accomplished," she said.

County Finance Director Tim Williams said a port authority has more flexibility because it can buy, sell and operate property. "It provides another tool in the toolbox for economic development purposes," he said.

"Hamilton is ready to move forward," Mayor Donald Ryan said. "We're eager and we're anxious."

Officials there have been talking about creating a port authority to spur the city's downtown redevelopment efforts and riverfront development for six months.

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