Council’s focus turns to port authority
STEUBENVILLE — Now that departmental budget hearings are finished, City Council is ready to discuss port authority funding and representation.
An economic development committee meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the Jefferson County Port Authority’s makeup “and decide whether we want to keep the four appointments,” 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna said.
Villamagna figures council will “want to keep four appointees and boost our contribution up to $50,000.”
“What I think is going to happen is we’re going to go to a $50,000 contribution next year as long as our finances allow us,” Villamagna said. “That’s if we have the money. It will all depend on (Finance Director) Dave Lewis telling us what we can and cannot do.”
The city has the four seats it was guaranteed in 2012 when the port authority was formed, but due to financial issues has never been able to meet its $50,000 annual funding commitment.
Last month, Jefferson County commissioners asked council to consider a change — either up its contribution, reduce its representation so other communities could get involved or change the bylaws so the mayor can appoint individuals living outside city limits.
“If it was my choice, I would like to see other communities more involved with the port authority, with finances and membership,” Villamagna said. “Can the port authority (size) be increased? I don’t know. But my original idea was to go down to three appointees and give someone else one. But after talking to my colleagues, I’m OK with staying at four.”
Several other council members said they’d favor upping funding over reducing the city’s representation on the authority.
Fifth Ward Councilman Willie Paul said he doesn’t want to see the city give up any of its appointees.
“We are the largest city in Jefferson County, the county seat,” Paul said. “(I think) we are going to come up with more money — I’d favor giving them $15,000 more this year, and next year $10,000 more.”
Second Ward Councilman Eric Timmons, meanwhile, said he agrees “with keeping it at four,” but funding would “depend on what the budget looks like.”
“At this point, I’m going to support keeping all four positions,” Councilwoman at large Kimberly Hahn said. “But I want to adjust the port authority’s charter rules — we’d still make the appointments, but adjust the rules so they are all at-large appointments. (That) means the mayor can select the four best candidates from around the county, so we wouldn’t limit him to Steubenville.”
Hahn also believes it’s important for the city to honor its commitment, and says she favors allotting $40,000 from the city’s 2020 budget and the remainder in 2021. But she also thinks the mayor should be able to choose the best candidate for the board, regardless of where they live.
“It gives them an option, whatever is best for the port authority,” she said. “I see no need to restrict it, but I would like to allow both the county and mayor to appoint people they think could I (do the best job.)”
Hahn also said she’s “open to discussion with other council members, maybe they’ll have a different position.”
“I think the perspective is everyone is trying to serve the entire county,” she added. “If it benefits the entire county, it will benefit Steubenville and if it benefits Steubenville it will benefit the entire county. The port authority is a great way we can demonstrate City Council and the county commissioners work side-by-side, really collaborating.”
Villamagna said there’s no question both the city and county commissioners try to make the best possible choices, “and that being said I do believe they have the betterment of the whole county (at heart).
“I don’t think any of our appointees would do something to benefit Steubenville and no one else,” he added. “I think they have the whole county at heart.”
A bylaws change isn’t a bad idea, he added. “It would allow us to appoint anybody who is qualified.”