STEUBENVILLE - The Jefferson County Port Authority appears ready to become the lead economic development agency, with two county commissioners indicating their financial support for the fledgling agency and offering low rent office space at the Jefferson County Airpark.
County Commissioner Thomas Graham said during the Tuesday morning meeting the port authority can expect the commissioners to look to the port authority to be the economic development engine in Jefferson County.
"That is why we created a port authority. The port authority can do more than the Community Improvement Corp. And at some point we will have to look at legal methods for turning the industrial park on state Route 43 over to the port authority," Graham said.
Graham and Commissioner Tom Gentile both said during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting the commissioners anticipate stopping funding to the CIC and Progress Alliance and providing up to $100,000 for the port authority in January.
"With Ed Looman's resignation as executive director of Progress Alliance, this seems like the right time to shift the funding to the port authority. We will be sending funding to the port authority annually until the authority becomes self sufficient," added Graham.
Looman submitted his resignation as executive director of Progress Alliance last month to accept a job with the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth as project manager for Jefferson and seven other counties in Eastern Ohio.
"We have not voted on the funding yet, but that is our intention. We will vote on funding for the port authority after we approve our county budget either later this month or in early January. And Tom (Graham) and I will do everything we can to expedite the application that will allow the authority to become nonprofit. If you need an accountant to complete the 501 (c) 3 application. I will talk to local accountants I know," remarked Gentile.
The authority members unanimously approved plans to advertise for an executive director and staff and to create a search committee to interview candidates interested in the jobs.
"You may want to discuss a job description of the executive director with Looman," suggested Graham.
And the nine authority members agreed to hold their Jan. 8 meeting at the Jefferson County Airpark terminal.
"I have been looking at different sites that have office space and a telephone system. It seems stupid to spend money on office space when we can look at the airpark. I am prepared to go to the commissioners' meeting Thursday and formally request office space in the terminal," said authority member Geary Bates.
"The airport authority is aware of the interest in office space there. The phone system there is compatible with the county phone systems. It wouldn't take a lot to add a couple lines there. But we would have to vote on approving this," explained Gentile.
"We may need a contract with the airport authority. And we will probably want something from the Federal Aviation Administration that it is OK to rent out office space in the terminal for a nominal fee," said Graham.
The authority had been meeting at the Historic Fort Steuben Visitors Center.
In other business at the meeting, the port authority met in a 22-minute executive session with Graham, Gentile and local businessman John Riley to discuss the sale of property.
The authority then met with Graham, Gentile, Steubenville City Manager Cathy Davison and Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci for a 57-minute executive session to discuss personnel.
During the public part of the monthly meeting, authority member Mark Teramana reported a meeting with the CIC officials went well.
"The CIC wants to create an entity to work together and then merge together into a port authority in the future," said Teramana.
The authority members nominated Jay Zatta to remain as chairman, Teramana as vice chairman, Debbie Venci as secretary and Edward Florak as treasurer for 2013.
The authority will vote on the nominations in January.
Looman also reported on several pending developments in the county and promised to remain available to the port authority during a transition period.
The port authority held its initial meeting in August after Steubenville Council and Jefferson County commissioners each appointed for members. The ninth member was appointed by the Jefferson County Regional Planning Commission.