The Ohio Department of Transportation did meet, and seek input from, nine public officials from Fulton County on April 26, said Steve Faulkner, Ohio Department of Transportation press secretary.
Faulkner’s comments came in response to an article in last week’s edition of this newspaper, in which several area mayors said they were not contacted for input by KPMG, the Austin, Texas, firm conducting a study of ways to raise money for state road projects through the Ohio Turnpike.
Possibilities include leasing the turnpike to a private entity or selling bonds, using the turnpike as collateral.
Faulkner provided a list of county officials who were invited to the April 26 meeting, held from 2 to 3 pm at the Fulton County Center for Economic Opportunity
On the list were Lisa Arend, Fulton County economic development director; Jeff Fryman, president, Archbold Village Council; Dean Genter, Fulton County commissioner; Jon Gochennour, Swanton village administrator; Dan Miller, mayor of Delta; Frank Onweller, Fulton County engineer; Doug Shaw, Wauseon mayor, and Neil Toeppe, Swanton Chamber of Commerce.
Rich Menzal, North Star Bluescope Steel, was invited but did not attend. Paul Fournier, of North Star, was in attendance.
Todd Audet, of ODOT District Two (Fulton County), attended the meeting, but was not on the invited list.
Kevin Sauder and David Yoder of Sauder Woodworking were invited, but did not attend.
Also, Karen Krumm, president of Wauseon City Council, and Jeff Stiriz, Wauseon City Council member, were invited but did not attend.
Jim Riley, from ODOT, and Ted Harner, of KPMG, attended.
Fryman said the meeting started with discussing privatization (leasing) of the turnpike, “but ended up being about ODOT, and how they allocate their money.”
He said business people at the meeting talked about what ODOT could do to make state routes friendlier to truck traffic.
He said he didn’t feel ODOT or KPMG was trying to “shove it (privatization) down our throats.”
There were, he said, suspicions about privatization.
“Right off the bat, they tried to take on the most common questions, but we kept veering off onto other topics,” he said.
Harner was “very good about verbalizing what (state officials) were looking at. He put out some major fires.”
Fryman said there were some fears over losing control of the toll road, and its maintenance.
ODOT and KPMG officials discussed “claw-back” measures, ways the state could regain control of the turnpike if the private manager failed to meet certain criteria.
He said originally he thought about the U.S. Postal Service, and all of the problems it has operating as a U.S. government enterprise.
“There are a lot of things that could be run better by the private sector,” he said.
“But I don’t see the turnpike as having all of those problems and issues, that we need to cut it loose,” he said.
Today, he said he’s 50-50 on leasing the toll road.
Faulkner said in an email message the Fulton County meeting is in addition “to more than 100 meetings across the turnpike corridor with folks from 11 counties that touch the Ohio Turnpike.
“Many of the meetings are heavily attended and include press, such as the one with TMACOG (the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments), where KPMG gave a presentation about the study and took questions. Many people from Fulton County were in attendance.”
He said Paul Barnaby, Fulton County commissioner, and Genter met with ODOT, Wednesday, Oct. 17, to go over the options KPMG is studying.
This newspaper contacted the mayors of Archbold, Delta, Fayette, Metamora, Stryker, and Wauseon. All said they had not been contacted directly for input.
Miller and Shaw said they had attended meetings, and Shaw was at the TMACOG event.
Vond Hall, Fulton County administrator, said on Monday, Oct. 15, the commissioners had not been contacted for input.