Ohio law provides for port authorities to construct facilities, issue bonds, make loans, and sell or buy real and personal property. Port authorities also possess many powers similar to other local governments in Ohio.
In Ohio, port authorities’ functions include operating airports, river ports, and lake ports; owning railroad lines; developing industrial and commercial property; owning and operating special facilities including a former Air Force base, a downtown theater, and parks; managing foreign trade zones; serving as sources of bond financing for intergovernmental, civic, non-profit, and commercial development projects; and administering community and economic development programs. In other states, port authorities run the gamut from those that own high-rise office towers to those that operate mass transit systems.
One key function a port authority can perform that a city cannot is the sale and lease of publicly-owned property. In most cases, municipalities and counties must sell or lease through public bid. Port authorities are specifically exempted from this requirement and can be a conduit for sale of excess government property for the benefit of economic development. Port authorities are also able to perform functions across jurisdictions, thus serving as a conduit for intergovernmental agreements and functions.
Some port authorities do receive subsidy, though many do not. Port authorities are able to receive an appropriation and expend public funds. Many port authorities are supported by fees or leases on port authority facilities. Ohio law permits port authorities to levy a property tax when voted in by the voters within the port authority’s jurisdiction.
The Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority receives no taxpayer subsidy. It’s main sources of revenue are commercial leases and property sales. This fact distinguishes the Port Authority as Ohio’s largest self-supported port authority.
Like other governmental entities, port authority net incomes and port authority property used for government functions are tax exempt. However, facilities long-term leased for commercial purposes are fully taxable.
The Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority has paid over $4.5 million in local property taxes since its founding. Combined, the tenants of the Central Ohio Aerospace and Technology Center make up the largest taxpayer in the City of Heath and ranks among the largest in all of Licking County with an estimated $4 million in local and school taxes collected in 2022.
Port authorities fall under a variety of checks and balances. For one, the political subdivisions that create the port authorities are responsible for appointing the board members of the port authority and have the power to change a port authority’s charter. Additionally, the Auditor of State is responsible for auditing port authorities and publishing audit findings every two years. Finally, the records of port authorities are treated as public records (except certain confidential business data) and port authority board meetings are made open to the public under Ohio’s open meetings act.