The Board of County Commissioners and Port St. Joe Port Authority last week settled the details of a loan that will provide the Port Authority some relief from day-to-day financial pressures.
And for the second time, during a pair of special meetings, no mention was made by either body of the Port Authority’s request for additional funds, a request made with a comment from Port Authority member Eugene Raffield that the extra dollars would indicate whether the BOCC was “supporting or axing” the Port Authority.
County commissioners even expressed reservations about the deal on the table.
That would expand a current loan to the Port Authority of $199,000 by $120,000 over the next two years with an interest of 3 percent on the package.
The loan would also push a first payment out three years; the current timetable as the Port of Port St. Joe operational within three years.
In return for the loan, the first-year dollars of which will be available to the Port Authority this week upon completion of documents, the Port Authority agreed to put the BOCC in the first mortgage position on the previously unencumbered former Arizona Chemical site.
The Port Authority also agreed it would not fight any foreclosure by the BOCC on the basis of not having the authority to mortgage public property, its defense in a recent foreclosure case with Capital City Bank concerning the port’s former bulkhead property.
Commissioner Joanna Bryan said she had reservations due to phase one environmental assessment, that which is performed to bring property up to minimal standards, not the preferable phase two, more stringent assessment.
That phase one assessment also raised several issues.
Port Authority attorney Tom Gibson said the phase one issues have been addressed and he provided county attorney Jeremy Novak with all pertinent documents prior to closing on the loan.
Bryan also said the BOCC should demand certain, minimum benchmarks to receive the money in the second year.
“If they don’t exist, I don’t want to be on the hook if nothing is happening,” Bryan said.
Novak noted that the terms of the original $199,000 loan included regular updates to the BOCC on activity and any job growth realized from the Port of Port St. Joe.
“They must fully comply with their obligations to get the second-year money,” Bryan said.
And, Novak said, the environmental issues were moot at this point given the BOCC was not taking possession of the land. The environmental health of the site would only be pertinent to the BOCC in the event of a foreclosure.
Bryan remained hesitant.
“I do support development of the port,” Bryan said. “I do have some concerns regarding the history of the Port Authority.”
Warren Yeager said that history was altered in recent years when the St. Joe Company became a collaborator to port development. He said all discussions he’s had with state officials about the port have been positive.
He further noted that the BOCC had, until last week, not provided one dime of property tax dollars.
“They are still tax dollars, but every dollar we have put in to the port are federal EDA economic development dollars,” Yeager said of the original $199,000 loan. “Those are not property tax dollars.”
The day following the BOCC meeting the Port Authority met and agreed to the terms of the loan, though the board was silent about the request for an additional $80,000 a year, an amount board member Jason Shoaf had said was essential to bring the board’s debts current.
The BOCC loan emerged from discussions that began after the Port Authority went out for proposals on a $500,000 line of credit. That advertisement generated one proposal from a private investor.
The board chose not to hear about a second proposal mentioned during last week’s meeting.
Shoaf, who participated by phone last week, said he would like to review the documents before voting on the loan, but was in the minority as his fellow board members wanted to move beyond the matter.
While on track for dredging the shipping channel (see related story this issue) the Port Authority, without revenue, has been plagued by mounting debts and the lack of staff beyond volunteers.