Friday, May 30, 2008

FOIA Friday - May 30, 2008

The struggle continues to get information about the financing for the new Lucas County ice arena.

Earlier this week I made another request for public information to identify where, exactly, the county is getting the money to pay for the contracts they've approved.

As I wrote in my FOIA Friday post of May 9,

So far, the Commissioners have approved (although not all the money has been expended) $31,750,000 in spending for the arena. However, the only source of revenue they've voted upon is the $18,500,000 in bonds issued by the County Treasurer to provide 'seed money' for the project. Even this amount really can't count as 'revenue' because the money was borrowed and will need to be repaid. This means they are currently about $13,250,000 in the hole.

Even if they transfer the money collected from the additional 2% hotel-motel tax, that's only about $1 million from 2007, so they're still in the hole.

As I learned through other public records requests, the arena account has about $32 million in it. Obviously, that account contains the $18.5 million that the commissioners borrowed. It might include the roughly $1 million from the last year's collection of the hotel/motel tax. So where did the balance of about $12.5 million come from????

That's what I want to know - but it's apparent that the people on the 8th floor of Government Center don't want to tell me, since I still don't have an answer to my request for public information.

According to the Auditor's office, the money in the account was part of the budget the commissioners passed. But what, exactly, that meant, the staff member wasn't sure.

Since the Commissioners have not approved the receipt of any other funds, nor have they approved any other bonds for the project, their only sources of income are county accounts: general fund, capital improvement fund, economic development fund. It is possible for them to 'loan' money from these funds to the arena account with the expectation that other sources of arena revenue (grants, naming rights, suite sales) will be used for reimbursement. But if they did this, I cannot find any vote on it.

So, again, where did they get the money to put into the arena account? Inquiring minds...

I'd also like to know what other sources of revenue they've identified to cover the $25 million increase in construction costs. But until they are required to submit such information to the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission in order to get their earmark from the state's capital improvement program, it appears that question will remain unanswered.

I again predict that public monies will have to be tapped before the end of construction because there is not enough private sector participation or future profit in the project.

The biggest problem I have will this is that, as a former Commissioner, I know the ins and outs of county government and I know what information should be available and from where. Imagine a citizen trying to make these requests and trying to figure out where to go to information.

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