By Frank Lewis
In lieu of a “promised” $25,000 contribution to the efforts of the Southern Ohio Port Authority by the city of Portsmouth, City Manager Derek Allen, as expected, called for the city to purchase a new vehicle for use by SOPA Director Jason Kester, as the city’s contribution to the development efforts by Kester on behalf of the city.
The vehicle in question is a 2014 GMC Terrain four wheel drive, 4-door wagon, valued at $27,180 from Glockner’s — and what looked on the surface to be a routine item was anything but.
“When we went through the budget process it was determined that it really wasn’t a capital expense, it was a contractural expense and should come out of the General Fund,” Allen said. “We don’t have General Fund monies at the time the strategy that I was thinking was that when we got our refund from the county for the property taxes we’ve been paying we would have money to make that $25,000 commitment.”
Allen said as that process went along it became clearer that the city is not going to get the money paid in property taxes for exempt properties back in a good time frame.
“In discussions with Jason (Kester), he’s driving his personal vehicle off-road at a lot of these sites as they are looking at the potential development. He is beating his car to death and I was thinking that I don’t have the General Fund money but I do have Capital Improvement money and he needs a vehicle,” Allen said. “So my proposal was that I would come to Council and ask for authorization to purchase a vehicle and we would have an inter-agency agreement basically that says that the city is loaning the vehicle to them until such time that either SOPA would be disbanded or that the car is no longer needed and they would return it back to the city. So we’re not buying and giving away a vehicle. What we are doing is providing a vehicle as our contribution for this year and the following year we should, by not paying the property tax, have that money we can dedicate as our commitment.”
The question of insurance came up, and Kester told Council he thought it would be a couple of hundred dollars and he thought maybe SOPA could throw that into the scenario.
“The purpose of this request is, so far this year, I have put about 6,000 miles on my vehicle,” Kester said. “I haven’t requested any reimbursement from the county or city or anyone else because I knew we don’t have the money. Figure that at about 56 cents a mile and that’s about $3,400 and I have about $300 in other expenses related to travel.”
Second Ward Councilman Rich Saddler said Kester needs a new car because it is a reflection on the city and the county when he drives potential industrial customers around to development sites.
“It is something that is needed,” Saddler said. “It is something that is going to benefit Portsmouth.”
Then Saddler talked about getting more proposals from other local new car dealers, specifically Ohio Automotive Center in Portsmouth and Hanes Chevrolet in South Webster.
“Nothing against the Glockner family, not at all, but we do have a local car dealership here in Portsmouth again,” Saddler said. “I would like to see if we can get a quote from them on a comparable vehicle possibly. I think its only fair if we’re going to go this route I think we need to look at our options. Since they (Ohio Automotive Center) are located her in Portsmouth I think it would behoove us to get information from them. I recently purchased a vehicle from them after years of having to buy from Vallery (Waverly) or Nourse (Chillicothe). So they (Ohio Automotive Center) have Jeeps and things like that.”
Third Ward Councilman Kevin E. Johnson asked Allen what is paid out of the Capital Improvements fund and he named things such as fire engine debt payment, Ameresco debt payment, the city building’s new front doors and the Oakland Avenue street repair project and others.
“Please, I’m not criticizing this project, but are we good at spending $27,180 on a vehicle like this when we still have roads that need to be fixed? when we have a lot of projects that have to be done?” Kevin E. Johnson said. “I’m not saying I’m against this. I’m just asking, are we good to do this when we still have a lot of other things that we need to do?”
Allen said he would not have presented the proposal if he didn’t fully believe in it.
Kester told Council he will get proposals from the other dealerships and give those to Allen and Council determined it would bring the ordinance forward with the amendment that proposals be received from the other dealerships.
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.