STEUBENVILLE - The nine-member Jefferson County Port Authority board held a frank discussion on Tuesday on future funding and collaboration efforts with the Community Improvement Corp. and heard Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham hint at a future reduction of funding for the Progress Alliance economic development agency.
Authority members and ex-officio members at the meeting agreed all economic development agencies in the county need to be combined in the future.
But seeing a single agency become a reality was the subject of intense conversation.
"Today is about getting this thing organized. The collaborative approach is the best approach. I thought we should have had a port authority years ago. This is now real and this is what we can do for the future," Port Authority Board Chairman Jay Zatta announced as he opened the monthly meeting.
"The county is going to fund $50,000 to the Port Authority next year and $75,000 to the CIC. But I don't see long-term funding for both organizations. I don't know when that funding for the CIC will end. I am pessimistic that we will fund the CIC and the Port Authority, but no final decision will be made until after the budget hearings that start next week," said Graham.
He later asked Progress Alliance Executive Director Ed Looman if Progress Alliance could survive without the county's $75,000 annual contribution.
"Yes we will survive, but the county is our major public contributor. Progress Alliance would look at lot different without the funding," responded Looman.
He said Progress Alliance currently relies on 51 percent of private donations and 49 percent of public funding.
Several authority members questioned Steubenville City Manager Cathy Davison on the City Council's hesitation to provide funding for the new organization.
"The council fully supports the Port Authority. But there is a reluctance to look at funding until the authority has a plan in place. Our general fund has two revenue sources. Those are the city income tax and our operating levy. We have just saw a 75 percent cut in our local government funding. The county has funding from its sales and use tax. The council has to look at funding for our different departments," said Davison.
"We have a lot of good partners in the Partners in Progress. The challenge is the CIC, the Partners in Progress and the Port Authority have to become one. City Council will be at a more comfortable position when a plan is developed. The council wants to see a private-public relationship continue in Jefferson County. But they are concerned a future relationship might not gel. It was a challenge to create a port authority but it needs to be one organization in the future," said Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci.
Much of the conversation during the nearly two-hour meeting centered on a future long-term relationship with the CIC and the Partners in Progress group.
"This is a different type of organization than the CIC. This could have very good benefits for the residents of the county. All of us here have legal and fiduciary responsibility to this organization. We need to be able to solicit funds from public and private sources. I have never walked into a room with the intention of destroying the CIC. I will advocate for sufficient funding for the port authority. But it is also unfair long term to think the port authority can be an effective organization without a director," cited board member Rob D'Anniballe.
"We need someone who is living the dream of the port authority. If we worry about stepping on toes or offending someone then we are wasting our time here," added D'Anniballe.
"If the authority is going to establish a working relationship, this board has to do it from equal strength. We clearly need a collaboration with the CIC but it has to be on an equal footing," added D'Anniballe.
"There should be one organization for economic development. I would essentially like to see the port authority as the economic engine. We should have one stop shopping for economic development efforts. We need a plan to communicate where we are going," noted board member Ed Florak.
"My concern is also about the contacts already working with Ed Looman. We are the envy of a lot of people. That drives me to preserve the partnership as this organization and the CIC morph into one. And how do we preserve the private partners in Progress Alliance," noted Florak.
Board member Mark Teramana said the port authority needs "to reach out to the communities in the county and send a message that we represent all of the county."
"We have to communicate to all communities that we are working for the entire county. And the port authority and the CIC need to be blended in a cohesive manner," Teramana said.
"Everyone needs to get on Twitter and e-mail and send out positive comments. That will help a lot," remarked board member Geary Bates.
In other business, the authority created a public-private relations committee, a property research development committee and a finance committee.
"We can continue to develop more committees as we move forward," commented Zatta.
And Looman reported sales tax collections are on the rise in the county.
H&H Screen Printing Graphics is open and operating and will eventually employ 200 employees. The shale industry is going bonkers and the interest in our county is at an all-time high," stated Looman.