Money from property sales put to good use

LISBON — Selling most of its properties this year has enabled the Columbiana County Port Authority to pay off almost all of its remaining major debt, purchase a new headquarters and help in the creation of 140 new jobs, with $1.1 million left to spare.

The port authority board on Monday agreed to use some of the $5 million it received this year from property sales to pay off $2.4 million left on a $3 million bond obtained in 2006 to finance construction of the computer network operations center (NOC) located in its industrial park in Leetonia. As part of the deal, the port authority refinanced the remaining $600,000 in bond debt at a lower interest rate, which will reduce the annual bond payments on the NOC building from $210,000 to $47,357 over the remaining 10 years.

Port Authority Executive Director Penny Traina said one of her goals since she was hired in March 2016 has been to reduce the port authority’s debt by selling off underused buildings that were either not making money or not enough to cover expenses and the cost of continuing to maintain them.

“Basically, we were drowning in debt. So we needed to do something,” she said.

In April, the port authority sold its headquarters in East Liverpool to next door neighbor Heritage Transport for $2 million and it moved to the NOC building, which has been mostly empty since it was built. The port authority turned around and sold the building and acreage to Haltec Corp. for $2.23 million. Haltec plans to relocate there from Butler Township, bringing with it 135 jobs and an additional 75 resulting from a proposed expansion.

In July the port authority sold the former Ferro building in East Liverpool, and then a month later it sold some additional property at its Leetonia industrial park to a tenant, the Pennex Aluminum Co., for $497,850 as part of a proposed expansion that will see the company’s workforce increase from 140 to 205.

“There is ample evidence we are moving forward on the course we set two years ago to transform the port authority and focus on our strategy to help our region grow, prosper and take advantage of the industrial revolution and economic growth that we see on the horizon,” Traina said.

The port authority used $758,000 from these sales to purchase and remodel the former OneStop building in Lisbon to serve as its new headquarters, which will be shared by the county development department.

Traina said all of the moves are projected to save the port authority 15 percent a year in operating costs, and the remaining $1.1 million left over will add to its cash reserves.

The ability to lower its long-term debt is also being reflected in the 2019 port authority budget adopted by the board. The port authority expects to spend $973,322 next year and have revenue totaling $785,891.

“The port has never been profitable, but this is the closest it’s ever been,” said Diane Ksiazek, port authority manager of administration and finance. Ksiazek said getting rid of most of those operating expenses and debt made this possible, and she indicated the port could break even in the next few years.