Questions arise over clean up funds

EAST LIVERPOOL – A $45,000 loan to clean up the former Riverview Florist property was approved by the Community Improvement Corporation board of trustees this week, but there may be a flaw in the proposed plan for repaying the loan.

The CIC’s property management committee had recommended after a February meeting borrowing the money from 1st National Community Bank, with plans to repay the loan with revenue gained monthly from a cell phone tower on the McCoy Avenue soccer field property, also under the CIC’s management.

The recommendation was considered Tuesday first by the CIC’s finance committee, with planning Director Bill Cowan explaining the loan would be repaid at the rate of $845 per month over five years at 5 percent interest, using the cell tower lease, which generates $860 per month.

Cowan said the cell tower lease is in place for five years, with an increase in revenue expected each year, saying, “That money is locked in place.”

Committee member Don Heldman questioned why borrow money and pay interest when the CIC has money in its checking account, with President Sam Scafide saying the CIC’s primary purpose is to loan money for businesses and it is never certain when someone might want a loan from the CIC.

Heldman countered that, if the CIC’s own money were to be used for the Riverview cleanup, it could always borrow money to loan a business if need be, but member Al Fricano said if money were needed immediately, it might be difficult to secure such a loan quickly.

“We have probably not loaned out $200,000 since I’ve been on the CIC and now you’re talking about people coming in suddenly (needing a loan),” Heldman argued.

Cowan said there is between $115,000 and $120,000 in the CIC checking account, after having given Better City LLC $60,000 toward its economic development efforts.

Member Charles Payne raised the concern that the cell tower revenue was supposed to be earmarked for maintaining the soccer fields as part of a lease signed last September with the Beaver Youth Soccer League.

“If that money is not available, that property will fall into disrepair, too,” Payne said, suggesting that the committee not look at that revenue as a source for repaying the loan until it sees what needs the soccer league has.

Devin Miller, representing the league, was present and said there are 450 kids currently registered to play on the fields, with about 300 or more of those from the city.

He said the road to the fields needs a lot of repair, as does the parking lot, and there is also a need for signage, new gates and fencing.

Scafide asked, “Was that in the lease I signed? I didn’t go through it point by point.”

Miller said the lease is only for three years and “it doesn’t make sense for us to sink $20,000 into something we’ll have for three years.”

Mayor Jim Swoger, also a CIC board member, said that, even if money is borrowed against the cell tower lease, “We still need to take care of what’s ours. Four hundred and fifty kids is a great thing.”

Member Charles Wade said a clarification is needed on what the lease says and how much it will cost for repairs to the soccer field.

Fricano moved to secure the loan, with the money to be used at Cowan’s discretion for cleanup, engineering and other responsibilities on the Riverview property.

Heldman, Dan Dietz and Fred Kane were opposed to the recommendation, which nonetheless passed.

At a meeting of the CIC board immediately after, tempers grew a little short as Scafide demanded to know, “Do we all agree to clean this place up or get $2,000 worth of fence and close it up. We need some money now to clean it up.”

Heldman said he believed all members are in favor of the cleanup, and Dietz said, “We’re using money from the soccer field to do it. That’s why we’re jumping around (the issue).”

Member Ray Perorazio said that, if the CIC has $120,000 in the bank, it has the money to do both.

Member Pat Scafide charged, “(The soccer league) is getting it for free. That’s a bad deal. If you want to lease my property, then you better take care of it.”

When the recommendation to obtain a loan came up for a vote, the board approved it, with only Heldman opposed.

The contract signed for the soccer field lease states that the tenant “at its sole expense shall keep and maintain the property in good repair and condition and make all repairs, replacements and renewals…landlord shall not be required to maintain, repair or rebuild all or any part of the property.”

However, after the meeting, Cowan and Pat Scafide noted an addendum had been found attached to the lease stating, “Income from the cell tower lease shall remain the property of the landlord and shall be set aside and used solely for improvements, maintenance, or other expenses associated with the property.”

The addendum was signed Nov. 24 by soccer league officials and on Sept. 26 by Sam Scafide.

Both Pat Scafide and Cowan, however, said they have no recollection of the CIC board approving such an addendum, and Cowan said he has been asked to check the minutes to determine if that had been approved.