During the miscellaneous business from City Council portion of Monday night’s Portsmouth City Council meeting, Councilman Kevin W. Johnson expressed concern for the business relationship between the City of Portsmouth and Southern Ohio Port Authority (SOPA).
Johnson explained that County Commissioners have expressed that they may be cutting funding to SOPA based upon an agreement that the organization would be self-sustaining after three and a half years. The councilman added that he sees no way that could be possible considering the minimal revenue the entity takes in.
“At the last meeting, I mentioned that I attended the SOPA meeting at which the Chairman of the County Commissioners mentioned that there is an agreement regarding SOPA becoming self-sufficient within three and a half years. This decision was evidently made four and a half years ago,” Johnson stated. “And, it was suggested that that would be one of the reasons why County Commissioners would not be funding SOPA in the future, was that they should be self-sufficient.
“I want everyone to understand what self-sufficiency means. It means that there is a plan in place, that there’s a money revenue stream that has been decided on and a comparison with other port authorities as to how to get it done. Well, I didn’t understand how a port authority in a poor community could be self-sufficient in three and a half years, so I sent a freedom of information request to the County Commissioners to see how this three and a half years was decided upon.”
Johnson further added that he spoke with Commissioner Bryan Davis about the agreement, who stated that no such agreement exists because it was made verbally and in open forum. According to the information presented at Council, Davis also informed him that SOPA had made the pledge to be self-sustaining in three and a half years, a self-imposed deadline that this was not a requirement placed on the entity by the Commissioners.
However, according Johnson, in his communications with SOPA, this information seems inaccurate. The Councilman further stated that he spoke with both the chairman of the SOPA board and Executive Director Jason Kester, who agreed that communications regarding finances had been verbal.
The County provided $50,00o to SOPA in 2014, $150,000 in 2015 and $150,000 in 2016. The County also provided funding for two airport studies.
According to Johnson, in Kester’s response, he had stated that was not aware of any document within SOPA that speaks of self-sufficiency. Furthermore, he stated that there are not enough capital projects within the area and available to SOPA for that to be possible. Johnson added that in his communications with Kester economic development grants can not be used for administrative purposes, SOPA has no property of much value and other revenue building activities that could be handled by a port authority are already being handled within the community by other entities. Furthermore, the communications added that in more than 30 years, the port authority has never been self-sustaining.
Johnson stated he brought up the discussion of SOPA because the funding cuts will threaten the organization’s vitality, and SOPA is an organization that works closely with the City on various projects.
Should it seem SOPA will dissolve, the Councilman explained that the City would need to revisit their agreements with the entity. He also added that in communication with Kester, he was informed that private donors had offered to increase their funding in exchange for a seat on the board; however, “pay for play” practices do not seem to work out well, and the Commissioners already want to control board appointments.
Kester was present for Johnson’s discussion and made no comments.
Portsmouth City Council meets at 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month in Council Chambers on the second floor of the Municipal Building on Second Street in Portsmouth. The City Manager’s Conference follows when the Council meeting adjourns. Meeting agendas, minutes and audio can be found on the City’s website at portsmouthoh.org by visiting the City Council and City Manager’s pages.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.