The Clatsop County Commission approved a loan to the Port of Astoria Wednesday, but the board could only promise half of the $200,000 the Port requested because of poor anticipated lottery earnings in the coming months.
The Port has asked the county for a short-term loan of lottery funds to help finance the purchase of North Tongue Point, a 40-acre industrial property with five finger piers and 140,000 square feet of warehouse space.
The county receives a share of total lottery sales throughout the state as well as a portion of the sales within the county to use on economic development projects.
With a recommendation to approve the loan from a committee of local experts and a guarantee from the Port that the money will be repaid, the county commission voted 4-1 to loan the Port $100,000 in video lottery dollars.
Commissioner Ann Samuelson voted no and said she hears concern from south county residents that they don't see the benefits of Port activities. She also said she thinks the Port should be making money from its 92-acre lease with Oregon LNG on the Skipanon Peninsula.
Under an agreement signed in 2004, the Port subleases the Skipanon property to liquefied natural gas developer Oregon LNG and receives $38,000 a year in return. However, the Port leases the same land from the Oregon Department of State Lands for $38,000 per year. Add in the administrative and other expenses associated with leasing the land, and the Port actually loses money on the deal, according to Port Executive Director Jack Crider, who was hired last summer.
The Port plans to repay the county's lottery funds when permanent funding from a long-term loan is in place. But if the Port does not close the Tongue Point deal by July 1, the agency has three years to repay the loan at 6 percent interest.
If the Port defaults on the loan, the county can claim the agency's unobligated property taxes, which are around $150,000 per year.
The $100,000 loan could grow depending on how much lottery money the county receives in May, according to Clatsop County Public Information Officer Tom Bennett.
The county usually receives $90,000 in video lottery funds in December, he said, but last year it only received $85,000 because of poor sales statewide. The county was expecting to receive another $90,000 in May, which it would have promised to the Port. But this year projections show the county could only receive $50,000 in May because of anticipated declines in sales.
Oregon's video lottery sales have been off of projections by about $2 million each week since the start of the year, according to lottery figures. Experts suspect a combination of factors including the recession and the smoking ban are contributing to the decline.
Port Commissioner Kathy Sanders said the Port should be able to make up for the smaller loan from the county without compromising the sale of North Tongue Point.
Port leaders say the phone is ringing off the hook with businesses that want to lease space at North Tongue Point if the Port buys the property from its current owner, Washington Group of Missoula, Mont.
Washington Group has put the property up for sale with a $7 million price tag, but has agreed to sell the site to the Port for less because it is a public agency. The Port's offering price is confidential until a purchase agreement is signed.
Also at Wednesday's county commission meeting, the board:
? Approved a list of countywide projects proposed for economic stimulus packages at the state and federal level after adding in four projects to the No. 2 priority item "water system upgrades." Two rural water projects, a $950,000 water treatment plant upgrade and distributing piping for Arch Cape Water and Sanitary Districts and a $900,000 Phase II Otter Point restoration project for North Coast Watershed Association, were added to the list as were two rural sanitary projects, a $225,000 upgrade of sanitary sewer pipes for Arch Cape Water and Sanitary Districts and $2 million for a pump station and other facilities for the Shoreline Sanitary District. The additions bring the No. 2 item on the countywide list to $6,860,000. The No. 1 item on the list is a $9 million request from the city of Astoria for the Denver Street Combined Sewer Overflow storage project.
? Tabled a vote on allowing Clatsop Economic Development Resources to keep $14,000 in video lottery funds left over from the abandoned effort to attract the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fleet to Astoria. The county had given CEDR $35,000 to respond to a request for proposals from NOAA, which is looking for a new home for its Pacific fleet of research vessels. After spending $21,000, CEDR leaders decided the effort would be too expensive and Astoria wasn't likely to be selected. CEDR has asked to keep the remainder to pay consultants at Ball Janik of Portland to do more lobbying work for economic development. Because of the uncertainty in lottery fund income, the board tabled the issue.
? Unanimously approved two zone changes. One was in the Dellmoor Loop Area, where the county approved an exchange of development zoning on nine parcels where wetlands prevented development. The exchanges, made at the county's request, should allow property owners to obtain the highest and best use of their land. The other change was an exception to state planning goal 3 to allow Lois Moon and Betty Sandy to divide a 5.5-acre parcel of land west of Dellmoor Loop into two 2-acre lots.
? Re-appointed current Fair Board member Jack Edwards and appointed new member Erie Johnson, both of Astoria. Both terms run to Dec. 31, 2011