City Law Politics City Council reintroduces Baileys Trail System financing legislation By Emily Zeiler Posted on November 19, 2019 8 min read 1 0 273 Councilmembers discussing proposed legislation. Photo by Emily Zeiler City Council reintroduced legislation Monday that would allow Athens to enter into an agreement to financially support the construction of the Baileys Trail System after the vote was delayed at its last full-body meeting. The proposed legislation would allow for Athens’ transient guest tax, a tax on rented rooms in hotels, to go toward the 80-mile long trail system’s construction that recently broke ground in Chauncey. It will also allow Athens to enter into the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia (ORCA), a council of southeastern Ohio governments that manages outdoor recreational projects. The transient guest tax allowed Athens to collect $214,921 in 2018, according to a previous report by The New Political. The trail system is projected to increase revenue from the tax since there could be more tourists visiting and staying overnight in the city. Quantified Ventures — a Washington, D.C.- based investment firm that’s managing the trail system’s financing — asked the city to pay $90,000 per year for the project, with potential increases in the future after annual evaluations. Minor amendments were made to the legislation at Monday’s meeting that would tighten the control City Council has over funding for the trail system. A full-body vote will be delayed because the Council must complete it’s three-reading process again with the new amendments. Councilmember Pat McGee raised concern in a previous meeting about the potential financial and political implications should the city withdraw from ORCA after the project is completed. “One of my concerns has not been answered and that is what will happen if the city decides to pull out of this agreement?” McGee asked. “I am really trying to protect those taxpayer dollars when I can.” Councilmember Sarah Grace raised a similar concern. She asked members of the council: “What happens to the cities and ORCA’s financial commitment if the trail isn’t financially successful?” Mayor Steve Patterson expressed his support for city funding of the trail system, saying: “What we have to do is look forward and look into economic development for our community.” Patterson supports the city paying an estimated $1.2 million that will be invested into the project over a number of years if the legislation is ultimately approved by the Council. During the meeting’s public comment segment, where residents are free to address the council, Tom Swearengen, a Guysville resident who has routinely expressed concern with the project, once again questioned the potentially negative environmental impact of the trail system and the information provided by Quantified Ventures. “Everyone is walking with blinders, and no one is pointing out the things that are counterproductive and should be addressed,” he said. Proposed legislation concerning enforcing city tow truck regulations was also debated among councilmembers. Some residents and students recently alleged that local towing companies charge customers $129 for services, a state-mandated maximum, despite an existing Athens city ordinance limiting towing charges to $50. City Law Director Lisa Eliason said tow truck regulations haven’t been properly enforced since 2004. “We have had Student Senate, as well as a number of students, petition the Council asking that if we do increase the towing rate that we do so in a reasonable manner,” McGee said on behalf of concerned members of Ohio University’s Student Senate. The legislation aims to fight against predatory towing practices, McGee said. “Some poor parent comes down for parent’s weekend and gets their car towed, or some tourist comes and gets their car towed,” he said. “They then leave with a distaste for this city.” A public hearing about rezoning portions of the Uptown area was also held. The change in zoning would requirement for businesses to have parking available for business patrons, but businesses would still be allowed to maintain parking if they choose to. Potentially impacted areas include: Court Street, East and West Carpenter Streets, East and West State Streets, and Fern Street. Bill Dombronsky, a citizen, said he was concerned about the proposed rezoning. “This is a university project and the university is taking another chunk from the city of Athens … It’s not good for the town, maybe for some individuals or the university, but not the town,” he said. Robert Delach, a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals committee, spoke in support of rezoning. “It will benefit the entire community and will make it better for business,” he said. Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Swearengen routinely opposed the trail system. He’s only concerned with the potential environmental impacts of the project.