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City Council hits roadblocks in funding Baileys Trail System

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Mayor Steve Patterson. Photo by Emily Crebs.

City Council was confronted Monday with institutional barriers standing in the way of funding the Baileys Trail System, despite months of discussion, debate, presentations, agreements and amendments concerning the project, leaving several members of the body both verbally and physically exhausted with the process.

As Councilmember Peter Kotses, a leader in the Baileys Trail System project, recused himself from the City Council committee meeting, he said, “I thought I was done with this.”

He’s recused himself from each council meeting’s discussion of the Baileys project — planned to be 88-miles of mountain biking optimized trails — due to his close involvement with the project.

Councilmembers echoed the same frustration throughout the meeting as the project’s finances remain unresolved.

During a December Athens City Council meeting, the body approved a financial commitment to the Baileys Trail System: $90,000 a year at minimum for 20 years, drawn from the city’s transient guest tax, a tax on hotels and motels.

The council’s financial commitment to the Baileys is contingent on the same commitment from the county. The agreement also had a clause that, with a letter notifying the governing body of the Baileys project — the Outdoor Recreation Council Appalachia (ORCA) — the city could cease contributing to the trail system in 90 days.

“(The withdraw clause) has really created a roadblock or a log jam in moving this project forward,” Mayor Steve Patterson said.

Because of the clause, the Athens County Port Authority, a third party that facilitates economic development in the county, does not have confidence in taking out a bond if there is a potential for Athens city or Athens County to back out of the project. 

Patterson illustrated the clause with an analogy of a citizen going to the bank for a loan, but also asking to opt out of the loan following 90 days of spending the borrowed money.

Councilmembers expressed exasperation over the fact that concerns about the withdrawal clause were not brought up during the December council meeting.

“Did we know that … no one’s going to float that bond with that clause in there?” Councilmember Sam Crowl asked.

Athens County has stalled in entering into its financial agreement with ORCA. The county is unsure if it will be able to afford the $90,000 a year for 20 years, according to a previous report by The Athens NEWS.

Councilmember Jeffrey Risner said that in December, Athens city felt pressure from the county to agree to fund the Baileys.

“One meeting and (Athens County) can have this thing done just like that … Come Tuesday of the next week, (county) commissioners do nothing,” Risner said while slamming his hand against the council desk in aggravation.

According to Patterson, who met with Seth Brown of Quantified Ventures, the investing firm responsible for coordinating the Baileys’ finances, the trail has options of funding in the event the current financial plan does not pass. 

Patterson elaborated on two other options for the trail’s funding, one of which includes a bond issued through the state treasury, and another that involves ORCA searching the market for a group to issue a bond. Patterson said that searching the market could mean that the bond is issued through an agency in a different state, thus the money is funneled outside of the area. 

Patterson also spoke with Ohio Rep. Jay Edwards about incorporating funding for the Baileys into the capital budget, a budget comprised of state funding, in hopes that the Baileys could gain funds from the state. 

Council President Chris Knisely cut the debate short after over half an hour of discussion. 

“I value everyone’s contributions to (the discussion),” Knisely said. “But right now, I think we’ve not moved forward.”

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