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January 7, 2014

Council establishes New Albany Port Authority

Mayor’s supporter opposes move

NEW ALBANY — One of Mayor Jeff Gahan’s strongest supporters on the New Albany City Council led the opposition on Monday to the administration-backed establishment of a port authority.

But despite Councilman Dan Coffey’s objections, the council approved forming the New Albany Port Authority by a 7-2 vote.

Coffey — who has lauded Gahan’s administration for its budget oversight and backed the mayor on key votes such as splitting the city-county parks department — said he feared the Port Authority could turn into another bureaucracy comprised of non elected officials.

The administration has maintained the Port Authority’s primary responsibility would be to fund and oversee the upkeep of the city’s portion of the Ohio River Greenway.

But Coffey questioned where that money would come from, and added the council could appropriate funds for Greenway maintenance  without establishing the Port Authority.

The Port Authority could ask the council to implement a property tax not to exceed .0333 cents per $100 of taxable property, which would equate to about $33 a year on a lot worth $100,000.

While the administration and the sponsor of the measure, Councilman John Gonder, stressed there are no imminent plans to instill such a tax, Coffey said he’s worried that the Port Authority could take on bonds that the city would be responsible for paying.

“I just think there are other ways to do this,” he said.

Beyond maintaining the Greenway, the Port Authority could foot projects such as a marina, light rail system or other developments along the riverfront.

Some of those projects as well as the installation of playground equipment and other features were included in the original plan for the Greenway, city officials said.

But while the federal government has paid for the bulk of the city’s Greenway span, such recreational features don’t appear to be part of their long-term funding plan.

“The federal government has told us from the start — ‘those are amenities, and we can’t pay for them’,” said Scott Wood, director of the New Albany Plan Commission and a city staff representative to the Ohio Greenway Commission.

He added that due to a small staff and limited resources, the Greenway Commission isn’t really capable of overseeing maintenance costs for the path and its features.

Money to maintain the Greenway could come from the General Fund or other sources, not just from a separate tax, said David Duggins, director of economic development and redevelopment for the city.

Coffey countered he wouldn’t favor expanding a tax-increment financing district to cover the area either as a means to pay for infrastructure such as a marina, which he said would be a failure if built.

He said he supports the Greenway and maintaining it, but refused to back the establishment of a body that could ultimately take on bonds for projects.  

Coffey and Councilman Kevin Zurschmiede voted against the ordinance on final reading, as it was approved on initial ballots last month.

Zurschmiede said the council didn’t have enough information on Monday to establish such an important body.

Councilman Bob Caesar supported the Port Authority, as he said the council ultimately holds the reigns over any tax.

“We have control over this entity,” he said.

Caesar requested on initial ballots last month that the council have a vote on the five appointments to the Port Authority, and the language was included in the measure.

Duggins said the Port Authority will consist of local residents who are knowledgeable about waterways and riverfront development. The Port Authority will work with the council and city for the betterment of New Albany and won’t be an autonomous body without control, he continued.

The council would have to vote to approve a Port Authority tax on three readings before it could be implemented.

McLaughlin retains president’s seat

Pat McLaughlin was selected as council president for this year, as he also held the seat in 2013.

McLaughlin was nominated by Coffey at the onset of Monday’s meeting and approved unanimously. No other council members were nominated.

Gonder was again selected as council vice president.

McLaughlin made few changes to board appointments, as he only moved Coffey to the Solid Waste committee as a replacement for Zurschmiede.

He announced that he would stick by his 2013 Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County appointments, which were Gonder and Councilman Scott Blair.

Blair — an independent — wasn’t recognized by the board last year and wasn’t allowed to vote, as the Horseshoe Foundation maintained that the council must appoint a Republican and a Democrat to the body.

Zurschmiede — the lone Republican on the council — continued his stay on the Horseshoe board in 2013 despite objections from other council members.

Panhandling ordinance approved

The council also OK’d on final reading a measure to restrict aggressive panhandling.

The ordinance is patterned after the Louisville law and comes after Clarksville took similar action last year.

It was approved 6-2 on final reading, as Gonder and Zurschmiede voted against the measure and Councilman Greg Phipps abstained.


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