Athens County Commissioners have recently expressed concern over how much money to pledge toward the Baileys Trail project.
Athen’s transient guest tax will cover part of the trail’s cost, but the 88-mile trail is still lacking some funding.
Councilman Sam Crowl, D-3rd Ward, said City Council is not leading the trail project but was asked to commit funds.
“City Council has approved funding for the Baileys that will come from Transient Guest Taxes and additional state funding from the increased gas tax,” Crowl said in an email.
Crowl said the funding will affect the rate at which the trails are created.
“The amount committed for the system will further develop the trails, so if not all the money comes through right away then the full 88 miles of trails will not be created as quickly, or perhaps not fully at all,” he said in an email. “As I understand, approximately 12-15 miles of trails have been completed and as money is available the system will be correspondingly expanded.”
Failure to complete the trail could have economic impacts, as it is being marketed as a way to increase tourism.
“The region would, I imagine, attract fewer visitors the less extensive the system, and fewer visitors means fewer dollars in our local economy,” Crowl said in an email. “So if the system lacks funding then the reward to the region would be less, or delayed, as the full system is developed.”
Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, said the city is going to partner with the county to pay off a loan of slightly over $3 billion over the course of 20 years.
“Our payments would be about $90,000 a year, more or less,” Risner said. “The revenue stream to pay back that loan would be part of the funds we get from the transient guest tax. The city collects transient guest tax, we then split it 50/50. We keep half and the other half goes to the tourist and travel bureau. Our half was then used for various city projects to what we call our general fun, that’s our biggest pool of money.”
Risner said the guest tax is to promote tourism, so it would be appropriate to use that money toward the loan.
“The way it works right now is we passed an ordinance authorizing that,” he said. “And unless the county puts up their share, we don’t pay anything. We will not contribute a dime until the county does.”
The trail could suffer delays if the county decides they are not interested, Risner said.
“At this point since the county hasn’t solidified a multiyear agreement for funding, this will slow things down a bit,” Chris Chmiel, county commissioner, said in an email. “I think the commissioners will continue to discuss this topic and hopefully come to some sort of agreement in the near future. If we can agree on something and get this project funded, we will possibly have a brand new tourism asset in our community.”
Chmiel said he believes the county can afford the project and that it is a good investment for economic development.
“I think this is a good fit as an economic development project because it plays up to our strengths,” Chmiel said in an email. “Our topography is a challenge for many traditional economic development projects like manufacturing. In this situation, the topography is actually an asset that makes us very competitive compared to the flatter parts of Ohio.”
As for the current state of the funding, the city of Athens and Athens County have sent in a capital budget request and are currently in the process of soliciting state funding, Chmiel said.
“(The) concern over the funding is not new,” Lenny Eliason, Athens county commissioner, said in an email. “The process that is being used is new so it is open to more scrutiny. This improvement is being done on federal land so the city and the county do not have control or ownership that makes it difficult.”
Eliason said the commissioners are working to find a solution.
“The proposed change in the grant from the ARC (Academic and Research Center) will help focus the efforts of an individual on getting and sustaining the financing,” he said.