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City Council tables vote on funding for Baileys Trail System

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City Council tabled a vote Monday for legislation that would financially support construction of the Baileys Trail System through a tax on rented rooms such as hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts.

The city was asked by Quantified Ventures — a Washington D.C.-based investment firm that’s managing the trail system’s financing — to pay $90,000 per year toward the project, with a potential increase after seven annual evaluations, at which time the firm will reassess the investment required by the city.

Councilmember Jeffery Risner, who initiated the motion and is also the sponsor of the legislation, said he wanted “more information on the financial burden to the city” before bringing the matter to a vote. 

A third-party independent financial consultant will evaluate the financing plan for the trail system created by Quantified Ventures, he said. Mayor Steve Patterson confirmed that and said a prospective consultant may be available to evaluate the initiative.

The evaluation will likely be completed by the next full meeting of council in two weeks, Risner said.

If the council does not amend the ordinance following the evaluation, it will be voted on by the body at that meeting. An amendment to the ordinance, however, will result in a further delay of a vote, at which point they will have to go through the three-reading process again.

Despite the lack of financial support relying on approval from Athens City Council, construction of the Baileys began in September because of funding from numerous other sources in the county and from Quantified Ventures.

The Baileys Trail System, when completed, will be a recreational bike spur and tourist destination optimized for mountain biking, but it can also be enjoyed by hikers, trail runners and backpackers, according to a previous report from The New Political

Councilmember Pat McGee expressed concerns about inconsistencies in Quantified Ventures’ information. He said the reported inconsistencies made him wary of entering Athens city into a financial commitment, despite his support for the project itself.

“There’s probably nobody in this room that’s opposed to the Baileys,” he said.

In 2018, Athens city collected $214,921 from the transient guest tax, or a tax on rented rooms in hotels. The trail system is expected to increase revenue from the tax as more tourists could stay in the city.

Councilmember Sarah Grace said those inconsistencies include language about Athens entering the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia (ORCA), a council of governments created to manage outdoor recreational projects in southeastern Ohio. 

The agreement states a member of ORCA may withdraw after 90 days of written notice. McGee was told in an email from Seth Brown, director of Quantified Ventures, the city could have political and financial implications if it withdrawals from ORCA.

“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” McGee said.

Grace also said that the projected amount of money Athens would be required to pay is not clear.

“Some of the things included in their budget projections are estimates but not based on confirmation of what the contributions would be,” Grace said. 

She used the projected number of potential visitors as an example, since it is not clear how the trail will be marketed. 

Councilmember Kent Butler dissented with the body’s motion to table the vote. 

I am comfortable with the information that has been provided to me, so I was prepared to move forward in support of the ordinance,” he said. 

The council chambers were filled with members of the community who came to voice their opinions about the city financing the Baileys. Numerous residents of Athens County stepped up to the rostra and voiced support or dissent for the planned trail system financing.

Julie Paxton, a professor of economics at Ohio University who attended the meeting, spoke on behalf of the potential economic benefits of the Baileys.

“This is the most exciting economic development project that I’ve seen for Athens County in our region,” Paxton said.

She also supported the Quantified Ventures “Pay for Success” model, as she believed it would reduce risk for the city. By way of that model, investors fund the project through bonds which are paid back to those who originally purchased them. The amount investors earn back will vary depending on the success of the project. 

Joan Kraynanski, a former city zoning board member who also attended the meeting, said she spoke to more than 20 residents who did not understand the financial commitment the city is considering with the Baileys. 

“What troubles me is how and why City Council … could authorize an annual commitment of $90,000 for 20 years,” Kraynanski read from an email she had received. 

The email suggested other ways in which the money could be spent in Athens.

Robert Delach, an active member of the local biking community and a property owner in Chauncey who attended the meeting, said if Athens city delays its vote on funding, it may lead to other potential stakeholders, such as Athens County, further delaying funding for the trail system, which could potentially slow down the development of the Baileys, he said.

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