Funding for the Clean Ohio Fund, a state loan-and-grant program to green Ohio, is changing.
A year ago, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and lawmakers agreed to steer revenue from the state’s liquor sales to JobsOhio, the private corporation that is being created to lead Ohio’s economic-development efforts.
The privatized economic development agency that is largely replacing the Ohio Department of Development is expected to be fully operational by July 1.
Liquor sales provide about $700 million a year for Ohio.
In January, the Ohio Controlling Board approved the agreement switching the liquor proceeds to JobsOhio.
Under the new arrangement, bonds for cleaning up brownfield or contaminated sites will be issued and then repaid with liquor proceeds. But bonds for trails, farmland preservation and green space must be repaid with other state funds. New funding sources have not been identified.
In the past, those programs have been funded by liquor proceeds and general revenue funds.
Over the years, the city of Akron got about $16 million in brownfield money from the Clean Ohio Fund. That includes grants for the Goodyear redevelopment, Bridgestone America headquarters, Canal Place, the Middlebury grocery store, the old Beech Street power plant and the Landmark Building.
The brownfield program has been in limbo for some time in Columbus with the change. The state earlier stopped accepting applications. The program is to be reactivated July 1.
It is also unclear whether the brownfield cleanup program will remain similar or whether it will change dramatically, said Cleveland environmental attorney Joseph Koncelik with Frantz Ward LLP.
The problem is that landowners and developers have no idea if the brownfield program is changing, said Koncelik, a one-time director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and an environmental blogger.
There have been reports that the program under JobsOhio might switch from grants to loans that must be repaid and that projects that can produce a short-term return on the state investment are more likely to get funded in the future, he said.
“We’re in danger of losing momentum behind a very successful program,” he said. “No one knows what it’s going to look like … and that’s the biggest problem. It would be a shame to lose what we’ve got.”
Ohio’s brownfield program has been one of the best in the United States for the last decade, said Koncelik, who helps clients navigate the brownfield process.
Ohio, through JobsOhio, is looking at spending $43 million for brownfield projects in fiscal year 2013 that starts July 1, said Laura Jones, a spokeswoman for JobsOhio.
In 2012, Ohio earmarked nearly $37 million to fund 48 brownfield projects in the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund and the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund, said Katie Sabatino, a spokeswoman for the Department of Development.
Those projects will leverage $168 million in local matches and other funds and create 1,522 jobs, according to information in state files.
The maximum amount that the state can spend on brownfields in a single year is $50 million.
— Bob Downing