Middletown moves forward in creating new economic development arm

Ohio has a new port authority after Middletown City Council approved creating a municipal entity for economic development.

Council approved emergency legislation at its Tuesday meeting to terminate the agreement with Moving Middletown Forward Community Improvement Corporation as the city’s agent for industrial, commercial, distribution and research development and to create a municipal port authority.

City Manager Jim Palenick told council that creating a municipal port authority could do the same thing as a community improvement corporation and have other powers such as issuing tax exempt bonds for development projects and offer sales tax exemptions against the value of construction materials for residential projects as well as charge fees to create revenues for the port authority. He said port authorities can work with other port authorities and land banks to leverage their resources for projects.

There are more than 60 port authorities established in Ohio that have been created by townships, municipalities, counties and multiple counties. Locally, there are port authorities established in the city of Mason and in Butler and Warren counties.

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Caleb Bell, an attorney working with the city, said the port authority would be a separate political subdivision but council would appoint the port authority’s board members. He said the port would have a separate state audit and be subject to state open meetings and open records laws.

Palenick said the nature and makeup of the port authority board would enable council to have substantial control as well as “a great deal of power and influence.”

The city has proposed the new seven-member port authority board would include four members of the MMF board, Ken Cohen, Greg Martin, Jim Kleingers and Mike Stautberg, along with Councilman Tal Moon as council’s representative, city Economic Development Director Chris Xeil Lyons, and Palenick. City Finance Director Jake Burton was recommended to be appointed as the port authority’s treasurer as a non-board member.

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Council did not take action on appointing new port authority board members. The board’s first meeting will be later this month.

The new port authority would take over the administration of loans issued by MMF for two projects, Torchlight Pass and the Goetz Tower.

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Palenick said the city spoke with one Butler County commissioner and with Warren County representatives about creating a municipal port authority.

“We’re not trying to step on anyone’s toes or usurp anyone’s authority,” he said. “We just want to access all opportunities.”

Council voted 4-0 to approve terminating the relationship with MMF, with Councilwoman Ami Vittori abstaining due to a conflict of interest. Council voted 5-0 to create the new port authority.

Councilwoman Monica Nenni praised Palenick for his “aggressive and progressive efforts” in creating a new port authority.

Councilman Tal Moon expressed his thanks for the efforts of the MMF board.

“This will be an incredibly powerful economic development tool,” Moon said about the new port authority. “I hope it will be very busy.”

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