Port authority pays back commissioners

LISBON – Columbiana County commissioners have been reimbursed by the county Port Authority for $378,000 repaid to the state when an economic development project failed to deliver the promised jobs.

The money represents a federal grant obtained in 2006 by commissioners through the Ohio Department of Development in 2006 to help fund the B-Telecom project at the Port Authority’s industrial park in Leetonia. The project included construction of a network operations center to be operated by B-Telecom, and the $378,000 was awarded with the understanding 76 jobs would eventually be created.

The B-Telecom project never got off the ground and the company failed to live up to its contractual obligations. The Port Authority canceled the contract with B-Telecom and hired another information technologies firm to take its place.

After learning B-Telecom failed to create the promised jobs, the state ordered the money be repaid. Commissioners did so in December 2009.

Port Authority CEO Tracy Drake said it was not a case where the money was spent improperly. “The state’s position is they didn’t create the jobs. It’s not because the work wasn’t done,” he said.

Drake said the Port Authority was able to reimburse commissioners using money from the sale of its railroad last month for $3 million.

Commissioner Tim Weigle said in 2013 that whenever the Port Authority reimbursed them they might use the $378,000 to help build a new county building in Lisbon to house the Port Authority and county development department. Port Authority offices are located in East Liverpool, and its board has yet to indicate whether it would be interested in taking commissioners up on their offer and relocating to Lisbon.

“It’s going into the capital improvement budget for now,” Weigle said of the $378,000, “but we certainly can use it for that.”