News and Tribune

December 19, 2013

Port Authority gets initial New Albany City Council OK

Coffey concerned about power of new body


NEW ALBANY — New Albany City Councilman Dan Coffey said he’s concerned about creating “another bureaucracy with no one to oversee it,” but the city has taken the initial step toward forming a port authority.

Coffey abstained from the vote, but the other six council members present approved forming a five member New Albany Port Authority on Thursday. If OK’d on final reading, which will likely come next month, the body would be charged with overseeing recreational and commercial development of the riverfront.

The Port Authority would control railway and boating development within city limits, and could approve bonds to foot projects related to those sectors.

However, city officials said such decisions are far from imminent, as Mayor Jeff Gahan’s administration touted the formation of the body as a means to provide guidance over riverfront development and to maintain the Ohio River Greenway.

The Port Authority could request the council approve a tax to support projects and operations, but city officials said redevelopment funds would likely be tapped first especially for initial expenses such as studies.

The city also has an obligation to protect its investment in its portion of the Greenway said David Duggins, director of economic development and redevelopment for the city.

“We’ve got $5 million in the Greenway already with no maintenance plan,” Duggins said.

Though the ordinance establishing the New Albany Port Authority is based on state statute, Coffey said he’s concerned about how much power the body would have.

Though the council would have the final say in implementing a levy, Coffey said the Port Authority would be another appointed board that could rack up debt the city would ultimately be responsible for.

He said more information and clarity about the power of the Port Authority is needed before he will support it.

“Once we’ve set it up, we’ve lost all control,” Coffey said.

Councilman Bob Caesar also called for an amendment to specify that the five appointments to the Port Authority, which would be recommended by the mayor, would have to be approved by a majority of the council.

The amendment was included in the ordinance which was approved 6-0. Council members Diane McCartin-Benedetti and Kevin Zurschmiede were absent from the meeting.

The sponsor of the ordinance, Councilman John Gonder, said forming the Port Authority gives the city direction as it pertains to riverfront development.

It can also give New Albany some independence from national rail lines, he continued. The Port Authority would have the power to open a local rail line to serve industries or residents if city leaders decided such a project was needed, or if national railway companies close their lines, Gonder said.

Recreational boating projects such as a marina could also be implemented by the Port Authority, but Coffey doesn’t believe such infrastructure would be supported in New Albany.

“A marina will be a black hole,” Coffey said, as he stressed he would not back the Port Authority if the goal is to build a marina.

Fluctuations in the Ohio River levels around New Albany have kept a marina from being built in the city in the past, and throwing money into such a project now would be a waste, Coffey continued.

Duggins and other city officials said examining what kinds of projects would be feasible and sensible for New Albany would be one of the responsibilities of the Port Authority.

Officials said there are no plans at this time to request a levy for the Port Authority. By state law, such a tax couldn’t exceed .0333 cents per $100 of taxable property in New Albany, or about $33 a year for a property worth $100,000.