Butler County commissioners approved $44 million in bonds Monday for a new assisted living complex in Fairfield Twp. that will bring about 100 new jobs.
Michigan-based StoryPoint, which offers independent living, assisted living and memory care, will build its facility on about 15 acres of property known as the Grace Lutheran site at Hamilton-Mason and Gilmore roads.
The plan is to build a 221,632 square foot senior care facility that will have 120 independent living units, 42 enhanced/assisted living units and 42 memory care units.
With the port’s financing, the senior living company will get a sales tax deferment on construction material — an estimated value of $786,491 and a powerful incentive to locate here.
Commissioners tabled consideration of the Butler County Port Authority issuing revenue bonds for the project in January until Hamilton and Fairfield Twp. officials finalized expansion of a special tax district known as a joint economic development district, or JEDD, which has since happened.
This project spurred the expansion of the JEDD between the township and Hamilton by about 200 acres and includes safeguards for the schools against lost property tax revenues.
Commissioner Don Dixon called the entire deal a “win-win” for everybody.
“They are going to put 200 commercial acres in this JEDD which has the potential of millions of dollars of return in revenues and assets,” Dixon said. “That makes sense.”
Port Authority Executive Director Mike McNamara said this is the largest port issuance ever.
Bonds for the mega mixed-use Liberty Center development were $37 million and they are generating about $56,000 in annual fees for the port, but that amount drops as the bonds are repaid.
The county will also reap a healthy fee for helping with the new project.
“The Port will receive $175,750 in fees, of which $115,750 will be paid to the county commissioners in order to fully compensate the county for any lost sales tax revenue due to the Port’s sales tax exemption,” McNamara said. “In addition, the Port will receive $25,000 annually for at least 10 years beginning in 2018 as an annual fee.”
Under Ohio law, port authorities can own, finance, construct and lease real estate including land, building and equipment. A port authority that buys or owns property for an expanding business, construction materials and other construction costs are tax-exempt. Also, ports can issue taxable and tax-exempt bonds, offering borrowers longer-term, fixed-rate financing than the terms of a commercial loan.
The whole idea of a port authority is to offer incentives to entice new development.
Port authorities are funded by fees for services and therefore, are dependent on a steady flow of transactions for funds. Not too long ago the port authority was having trouble staying afloat. Back in 2014 after a shake-up that ended with former executive director Mike Campbell ousted, the port’s bank ledger showed a negative $10,091 balance and the commissioners had to bail it out to the tune of $55,000.
The Port Authority completed nine projects since it was first established in 2004 and started in 2005, through the first half of 2014, generating just $357,762 in fees. Campbell’s salary and benefits during his six-year tenure totalled $511,888 and the county supplemented the port’s revenues with $262,000, not including the $55,000 loan in 2014.
“Liberty Center was what brought the port back to solvency,” McNamara said. “The port was able to repay the commissioners’ loan at that point.”
The port had two deals in the works when McNamara joined the port in 2015, Colonial Senior Services rehabilitation center and Mother Teresa Catholic Elementary School. This year three deals have now been consummated with the one this week as well as the Marcum apartments in Hamilton and the NorthPoint Distribution and Manufacturing in Fairfield. The port generated $122,548 in charges for services last year and had $91,218 in unrestricted funds at the end of the year. McNamara said he is working with local economic development directors on a half dozen more.
McNamara, who splits his time between the port and the land bank, said he works with all of the economic development directors across the county fleshing out good prospects for the port’s services.
Commissioner T.C. Rogers, the commissioners’ liaison to the port board, said since the troubles almost three years ago the port has learned a lot by meeting with other port authorities and briefly partnering with Warren County.
Dixon praised the port authority for putting taxpayers first when pondering whether to take a deal or not. He said there are many port authorities that just gobble up any development that comes along regardless of whether it is likely to produce jobs or other benefits to the community.
“They have a philosophy now, I believe it is even in writing, that there has to be a cost benefit analysis for every one of these projects they get involved in,” Dixon said. “And if it comes out negative for our taxpayers or any entity, the schools, or the city or the township, then they don’t do the deal.”