Port authority pays taxes on two properties

EAST LIVERPOOL – The Columbiana County Port Authority has paid delinquent property taxes on two sets of property it is in the process of selling.

Port Authority attorney Tim Brookes reported at Monday’s board meeting the back taxes on the railroad property and on a parcel at their riverfront industrial park in Wellsville were paid to eliminate any possible impediments to both sales.

There is a tentative deal in place for Aqua Infrastructure to purchase the former Youngstown & Southern Railroad from the Port Authority for $3 million, with the acquisition expected to be completed this summer. Aqua wants the run a water line along the railroad right-of-way to transport water to oil and natural gas wells in the area.

The port authority also recently gave final approval for the sale of 3.6 acres at the Wellsville industrial park to Marathon Petroleum for $2.4 million as part of the company’s planned expansion to create a staging area/transfer station to transport oil and gas by barge.

The back taxes on the railroad and land being sold to Marathon property totaled $64,000.

Brookes said the port authority is reviewing the tax status of all 100-plus parcels of property it owns to determine which ones may be eligible for an exemption under the law.

“We’ll address the other parcels once we get these (railroad and Marathon properties) taken care of,” he said,

The issue of the port authority’s tax delinquencies came up at a recent meeting of county commissioners, where state Rep. Nick Barborak, D-Lisbon, reported he was working on legislation to help government agencies and nonprofit organization that owe back taxes.

Government agencies, churches and nonprofit organizations are eligible for property tax exemptions but must prove they qualify. When these groups acquire a new piece of property they must file for an exemption, but many neglect to do so. When these groups eventually decide to file for an exemption, they must first pay what they owe, with the Ohio Department of Taxation refunding the money once the exemption is granted.

Commissioner and former port authority member Mike Halleck noted the Port Authority owed $706,992 in back taxes, and he suggested paying the debt owed on its non-exempt properties.

For most of the previous decade, port authority finances were stretched thin because of underperforming and failed projects. However, the organization’s economic fortunes have turned around in recent years because of the oil and natural gas boom under way in the region, officials said.

Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Tracy Drake said their review indicated some of the property was granted an exemption by the state, but they were still receiving property tax bills from the county.

“Some of the exemptions we received were not put on the books,” he explained.

An example would be the port authority’s industrial park in Leetonia, which was granted an exemption in 1998. Brookes said the Leetonia industrial park accounts for more than half the delinquent taxes owed by the port authority.

“That would constitute a large part of our arrearage, and we believe it is all exempt,” he said of the Leetonia property.