Note: This story appears in the Thursday, Nov. 7 newspaper on Page A1.
Many expectant citizens received an unsatisfying result on the Baileys Trail system funding requested from the city of Athens, with the decision being tabled at Monday night’s Council meeting.
The proposed ordinance would cost the city around $1.8 million to be paid out in $90,000 increments annually for the next 20 years. Athens is being asked to pay this share of a more-than $12 million project to build 88 miles of mountain bike trail in Wayne National Forest.
It is believed this project will draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to Athens County and with them a torrent of tourism-related spending.
None of the trails will be located within Athens’ city limits, but project supporters say Athens and other communities in this region will reap the rewards of this influx in tourism.
Councilman Jeffrey Risner chairs the Finance Committee and motioned to “table” the ordinance because he wanted more information on the financial ramifications involved. He asked for an independent consultant to look at the figures and provide more insight to Council at its next full-body meeting on Nov. 18.
Councilman Patrick McGee, who failed in his re-election bid a day after Monday’s meeting, agreed with this approach. McGee said Monday he had “poured” over the figures and found “inconsistencies.”
“A short break so we can get the information would benefit everyone in Athens,” he said.
The vote to temporarily table the matter was decided by a 4-2 vote, with members Kent Butler and Sam Crowl opposing the measure. (Council member Peter Kotses has abstained from all votes and discussions concerning the Baileys Trail system due to his other involvement in the project; he owns a local bicycle shop).
“(I) am optimistic of moving forward,” Butler said, noting that the city would have a few options to withdraw from the agreement if necessary.
Several members expressed concerns about delaying the vote, but added it would be necessary to be good stewards of residents’ tax dollars. City Auditor Kathy Hecht said she was torn on the issue, saying some of the language in documents provided was “contradictory.”
“We’re not the only ones entering into this — the county is, too — but we would have trouble entering into agreements with the commissioners and the Port Authority if they’re going to take bonds out on our behalf,” she said. “I’m not a financial professional, but I feel very worried.”
She also noted her concern of using city dollars outside the city.
The total project is expected to cost more than $12 million, with much of it paid for through grants and other fundraising methods.
Susan Urano, executive director of the Athens County Foundation, said at Monday’s meeting that about 14 miles of trail are expected to already be completed by the end of December and called the project a “win-win” for the residents of Athens County, especially Chauncey.
“This is the biggest opportunity to save Athens County that I have seen in 30 years,” she urged Council members. “I don’t think you’re going to get the level of detail on the finances that you are seeking.”