Commissioners will sell bonds to fund nursing home expansion

LISBON – Columbiana County commissioners agreed to help facilitate the proposed expansion of a Stark County nursing home but only after some questions were answered.

Commissioners agreed at Wednesday’s meeting to sell up to $15 million in government revenue funds over two years to help fund expansion of the Canton Christian Home after the county Port Authority agreed to do so last month.

Port authorities can issue up to $10 million per year in tax-exempt government bonds for projects that benefit non-profit groups, such as the assisted living/nursing home operated by the non-denominational Canton Christian Home. The Stark County Port Authority had already exceeded its $10 million allotment for the year and asked the port authority here to help with the project.

The local port authority board agreed, and voted last month to issue $10 million in bonds this year and up to $5 million in 2015. The tax-exempt status of the bonds allows the Canton Christian Home to obtain low-interest financing for the expansion. The port authority assumes no liability for the debt but will be paid $62,000 for its efforts.

The deal also required the approval of commissioners, who said they knew nothing about it until after the port authority acted. “Then two days later they wanted us to make a decision, and we didn’t know anything about it,” said Commission Chairman Jim Hoppel.

Port Authority CEO Tracy Drake and Victoria Bowser, an attorney for the law firm that will issue the bonds, met with commissioners this week to answer any questions. He apologized for failing to notify them in advance and assured them the county would not be held financially liable should the bonds not be repaid.

“The port authority would not have entered into this if there was any recourse against us,” Drake said.

Commissioners have issued tax-exempt bonds for other projects over the years, but Hoppel was still concerned about the county’s legal exposure given their prior experience. He was referring to an agreement with the Buckeye Water District that included a clause to hold commissioners harmless should any lawsuits result. A lawsuit did result against the BWD, and the judge ruled commissioners were still liable.

“I think the indemnity clause speaks for itself … We do these all the time and we’ve never had a problem” with a court failing to uphold the clause,” Bowser assured them.