By Ed Runyan
The Western Reserve Port Authority has authorized use of $24,167 in port funds to help the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp. on Belmont Avenue in Liberty run a program to help local businesses procure federal contracts.
The corporation, known as MVEDC, has run the program since 1985 and has helped companies receive nearly $200 million in contracts over that time — $2 million so far this year — said Rose Ann DeLeon, executive director of the port.
The federal government used to pay 75 percent of the local program’s cost but will only pay 50 percent in 2014, so the port authority will provide the other 25 percent to help keep the program running, DeLeon said.
The program, called Procurement Technical Assistance, raises awareness of federal procurement programs and shows business people how to apply, DeLeon said.
In other business at Wednesday’s port authority meeting, board member Don Hanni III asked the board to consider giving 70 percent of the $825,000 the port is receiving from Penn National Gaming to the Mahoning County general-fund budget.
The port authority is helping Penn National avoid $3 million in sales taxes — about $550,000 of which would have gone to the Mahoning County general fund and the Western Reserve Transit Authority.
Penn National avoids the sales taxes because the port will be taking ownership of the buildings at the Austintown racino for 10 years. As a government body, the port pays no sales taxes.
Because the board’s assistance is costing the Mahoning County general fund hundreds of thousands of dollars it might have otherwise received, Hanni is proposing that the port voluntarily give about $560,000 back to the county, Hanni said.
Mahoning County officials have indicated their finances are in “dire straits,” so it seems fair for the county to be reimbursed by the port, Hanni said.
“We’re not meant to be a money-making organization,” he added.
However, James Floyd, another board member, said the way the port’s economic development operation was structured is that fees such as the ones from Penn National are to be used to support its work.
Scott Lynn, port authority chairman, added that the Mahoning commissioners have not raised the issue in any of the meetings the port has had with them recently.
Port member Andres Visnapuu, of Boardman, said he would oppose giving Mahoning County the money, but he thinks it would be appropriate to give extra consideration to a county project that would involve port-authority funds being used as match money.
“Let’s say we took $300,000 to $400,000 to leverage several million,” Visnapuu said.
At the suggestion of board member Richard Musick, the board tabled the idea until it can be further researched.
The port authority approved an increase in the hourly rate legal advice from Atty. Dan Keating from $125 per hour to $150 per hour. Lynn said the increase is in keeping with industry standards.
Hanni asked, however, why the board doesn’t bid out the job of legal counselor. Keating has had the job for many years. Lynn agreed it makes sense to open the job up to other attorneys and said steps would be taken to do that.