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Ironton City Council will try to launch own port authority

Keyboard keys were clicking madly Tuesday evening in preparation for tonight's late-night special meeting of the Ironton City Council that could result in the creation of the city's own port authority.

At Tuesday night's finance committee meeting, committee members and

council members discussed the possibility of creating a port authority for Ironton and called a special session of council for 10 p.m. tonight in the Ironton City Center.

The project has been in the works for three months since Economic Development Director Matt Ward was hired, Mayor Bob Cleary said.

According to a presentation from the city, reasons for creating a port authority include economic development, developing a river port, brownfield redevelopment and improving transportation. Permissible activities of a port authority include commercial, industrial, residential and recreational development. Its powers and duties include the purchasing of real or personal property, construction or reconstruction of buildings and improvements and selling or exchanging real or personal property.

The city may lease any property to the port authority, which would actually manage it, renting it to others, Cleary said. The port authority can use the rental income to stimulate more development and give it back to the city in the form of lease payments.

Without the port authority, Cleary said, the city can only help a prospective tenant with city-owned property by assisting them with getting a grant or other form of aid. City-owned property cannot actually be a part of the negotiation because it must go to public auction. The port authority has the power to sell or lease city property on its own.

With all council members present except for Councilman Jim Tordiff, the members elected to call a special meeting of council for 10 p.m. Wednesday night in council chambers. This was done because the ordinance, which was ready except for having the sponsors' names and it's number, would be completely ready before the 24-hour time frame council must provide before calling a meeting.

Tordiff was to have a notice of the meeting delivered to his home and having an Ironton Tribune reporter present at the meeting aided in press and public notification.

Ward, a former aide to State Senator John Carey, said port authorities were highly recommended by former colleagues at the state level who knew he would soon become Ironton's economic development director.

"I was highly advised this was the route to take," Ward said. "This is one of this greatest tools we could have."

Even though this port authority is solely for the city, Cleary said other entities could possibly join.

However, Councilman Richard Price said the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation wants the entire county to have a port authority.

The creation of a port authority was supposed to be discussed at Tuesday's county commission meeting. However, the presentation was postponed because Nate Green of the Ohio Department of Development, who was going to make the presentation with LEDC economic development director Pat Clonch, did not attend.

Because the Lawrence County Commission meets Thursday morning and city council does not meet until later that evening, the commission could pass an ordinance creating the port authority before the city has a chance to do so.

Council Chairman Jesse Roberts said city officials had no knowledge of or input in the county's plans to have a port authority. Roberts emphasized that he is not opposed to the county having a port authority, but city officials want to have a port authority that will specifically function to help stimulate growth in the city and help the citizens of Ironton.

Cleary and Ward have spent three months working on the port authority plans, which has included several out-of-town trips, Cleary said. If the county were to have a port authority, the city would be included in that. The city could take action to have its own afterward, but it would take extra time.

According to city officials, this extra time could hurt possible economic development.

Ward said he plans to meet Friday with a prospective tenant for the South Ironton Industrial Park. Ward would not disclose who that tenant was, but said having the ordinance creating the port authority actually passed would make the property more attractive.

All six members of council present at the finance meeting are sponsors of the ordinance. The ordinance states that the city's port authority will be composed of a five-member board of directors who will serve four-year terms. The board members will not be compensated.

Having the port authority board members receive no money for their jobs does not concern Ward about the job they will do if the port authority is created tomorrow night.

"Ironton has a wealth of leadership. I don't see this as a problem at all," he said.

"The citizens of Ironton are committed and willing to serve and help," Roberts said.

County Commission President George Patterson said he believes that everyone in the county working together on a port authority would be beneficial, but he is not opposed to Ironton being on its own.

"Everyone working together would be beneficial as far as I'm concerned, but personally I have no problem," Patterson said.