The Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission announced today its support for language in the Senate version of the State Budget Bill (Am. Sub. H.B. 153) that would provide the Auglaize and Mercer County Boards of County Commissioners with the authority to form a “lake facilities authority” to coordinate the restoration of Grand Lake St. Marys.
“We have been working with Senator Keith Faber, the Auglaize and Mercer County Boards of County Commissioners, and the Vorys law firm over the past several months to craft language that will give us a much-needed tool to enable all stakeholders to work together to address our unique challenges and our great opportunities,” explained Commission facilitator Tom Knapke.
He continued, “We are pleased to report that through Senator Faber’s efforts and his colleagues’ cooperation, the requested language was included in the Senate version of the budget bill, and we are now working to ensure that the requested language remains in the conference committee version of the budget bill.”
Senator Faber said, “I am supporting the LFA language because it is about jobs. The Lake means so much to our region from a tourism standpoint and an economic development standpoint. If the Lake’s challenges cannot be addressed successfully, tourism will suffer, and more jobs will be lost. In contrast, if the Lake’s challenges can be addressed successfully in a process driven by local leaders, tourism jobs, research & development jobs and other types of jobs will be created and retained, and our region will flourish.”
He continued, “The LFA language will enable local officials to use a targeted approach to address the Lake’s challenges, and it is preferable to the less satisfactory ‘shotgun approach’ alternatives that local officials currently have to address the Lake’s challenges. In particular, the LFA, if formed, will be accountable to the taxpayers in two fundamental ways – the board members will be local elected officials, and the LFA will not be able to impose additional taxes without voter approval.”
Representative Jim Buchy also voiced his support in a statement. He said, “I am excited that local officials and local taxpayers will have the ability to address Lake issues in a manner they see fit, and I believe this targeted approach makes sense because it puts power in local elected officials’ hands and taxpayers’ hands.”
The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation also announced its support of the concept. Executive Vice President Jack Fisher noted, “We are pleased to support the LFA language because it gives a targeted tool to local officials and taxpayers. We look forward to continuing to work with local officials in Auglaize County and Mercer County to address the Lake’s challenges in a constructive, cooperative manner.”
As currently drafted, a lake facilities authority can be formed in very limited circumstances that are believed to apply only to the current situation with Grand Lake St. Marys. The LFA is granted authority to manage and operate similar to entities that exist for similar purposes, such as port authorities, conservancy districts, and convention facilities authorities. The LFA’s board of directors is comprised of the county commissioners for each county in which the distressed watershed is located. An advisory council consisting of an appointee from each political subdivision with territory in the distressed watershed is also established to consult with the board of directors.
The purpose of the LFA is to coordinate efforts to address the watershed issues and to provide an entity to facilitate water quality improvement activities. Like other similar entities, an LFA has limited revenue authority, can issue bonds, hold property, and take various actions. However, the LFA’s ability to raise revenue is significantly limited in comparison to similar entities. Any taxes or assessments levied by an LFA require both the approval of the elected county commissioner board of directors and a vote of the impacted residents. The amount of any taxes and/or assessments levied by an LFA are capped at or below levels allowed for port authorities, soil and water conservation districts, conservancy districts, and convention facilities authorities. The LFA statutes also prevent stacking assessments or creating similar entities for similar purposes. For example, there is language to prevent the creation of a conservancy district for the same purposes as an LFA if one exists for that watershed.
Media Contacts: Thomas Knapke at 419-852-2427 or Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org. Scott Ziance at 614-406-2809 or email@example.com.