The Board of County Commissioners wants a return on its loan to the Port Authority, but they are optimistic the money will come.
During Tuesday’s regular bi-monthly meeting, Port Authority chairman Leonard Costin came to commissioners to request consideration on a $200,000 loan the BOCC made to the Port Authority two years ago.
Though the first $10,000 payment is not due until next year, Costin asked if the county would consider extending the deadline for complete payment until 2021.
The Port Authority is due to make annual payments of $10,000 for six years beginning in 2014 and then pay off the balance in a balloon payment in 2021.
Costin said the Port Authority does not have the funds to pay the first payment.
Commissioner Carmen McLemore said he could not support extending the payment, saying the money is federal economic development money that other small businesses could use to build their businesses.
But, McLemore later noted, that payment was not due until next year and he, and his fellow commissioners, expressed a universal belief that something would likely change – given recent movement on port development – in the next year to leave the Port Authority in a position to meet the loan requirements.
“I’m more confident today than I’ve ever been about the port,” said Commissioner Warren Yeager. “I am confident there will be something on that site that will create jobs. The port is the best opportunity for Gulf County to create jobs.”
Commissioner Joanna Bryan said the initial action in loaning the money was flawed – she again called for the board to adopt a more transparent and detailed agenda – and that the board put few if any strings on spending the money.
She said the Port Authority was moving in the right direction but the board should slow down and work with the port to facilitate the development of the port.
Commissioner Ward McDaniel wondered if the Port Authority were to collateralize the loan – the county is currently the second mortgage behind Capital City Bank on the barge terminal land currently the subject of foreclosure action – such as the unencumbered Arizona Chemical land donated to the Port Authority.
Costin said from his perspective an agreement could be reached to further secure the county’s money, but said he would have to take the issue back to the Port Authority board next to gauge the feelings of board members.
Costin added that when the Port Authority has the money it will not wait until 2021 to pay off the loan, but repay the funds immediately.
“We want to get the port going, we need to get the port going,” McDaniel said. “We are willing to work with you.”
Interlocal agreement/PSJRA move
Commissioners examined the 15 items on the eight-year-old interlocal agreement concerning the annexation by the city of Port St. Joe of WindMark Beach and how to address a stalemate with the city over one provision and the Welcome Center.
The county has asked that the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency vacate the Welcome Center to accommodate the growing Tourist Development Council. The proposal would be the fund the move of the PSJRA to the Local Color building occupied by the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce.
The PSJRA is currently paying rent for both spaces as the city has been unwilling to approve the move. The main sticking point for the city is a long-ago request to revisit a fire tax in order that it be divided between the three fire departments that respond to WindMark Beach.
The tax was earmarked to pay for a fire station that as yet is not needed.
In March, the city sent a request to the county that the interlocal agreement be rendered null and void and a new agreement be signed that would include a few remaining items, in particular division of the fire tax.
The county is preparing its formal response.
Ticking off the 15 items, county administrator Don Butler noted that vast majority have been completed or obligations mutually removed.
A few remain, the fire tax and a provision regarding charging the same water/sewer rates for county residents as those for city residents, and the county wants the city to convey the land the Welcome Center sits on to the county.
The county also wants the city to take over fire response to the unincorporated of Oak Grove.
“This was put in place at a different time for the county,” Yeager said.
Bryan agreed, but said times will change in another three or five years. She opposed rendering the existing agreement null and void and said she would like to work through the entire agreement in detail before making a decision on the fire tax.
Yeager requested that county staff convey an interest to the city for a joint workshop to work through the agreement and Bryan asked that the county’s response allow the move of the PSJRA until that workshop.
“We need to get the PSJRA moved,” she said.
Commissioners approved, with McLemore dissenting, to spend up to $6,000 to establish a recycling pilot project at Salinas Park.
Waste Management will provide a 24-foot can that will have openings for recycling plastic, glass, newspaper and cardboard.
The effort is to have the pilot project span the summer months, the next four, to provide the raw data to establish the feasibility and challenges for a county-wide plan.
Yeager said the city of Port St. Joe would like to join the county in the effort.
“This is a good pilot project for the future,” McDaniel said. “We are not going to know if it is going to work until we try it.”