CLEVELAND — The smallest county-wide tax levy in Cuyahoga County is on the ballot again this November. The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority is seeking a renewal of its 0.13 mills levy — amounting to less than $3 per $100,000 in assessed value — in order to maintain funding for capital expenses and general operations at the Port of Cleveland, which provides 20,000 jobs across the region, officials said.
First passed by voters in 1968, the Port Authority levy, which generated $3 million last year, remains a critical funding source because of the matching state and federal grant money it helps bring in, said Will Friedman, the president and CEO of the Port Authority.
“We’ve been able to take the levy proceeds, which total up to about $3 million a year, and leverage three times that — a 3:1 ratio — of state and federal grant dollars coming back into our community,” Friedman said. “It’s not a lot of money for the individual or the property owner, but it’s very important to the port authority. We take that money and multiply it essentially, bringing in state and federal grant dollars, essentially using them as a match to bring in those grant dollars. We renew the infrastructure in the harbor, we buy cranes and we support jobs.”
The renewal of the levy, which amounts to less than a penny-per-day for the owner of a home valued at $100,000, is not a tax increase, Friedman said.
“We think it’s one of the best bargains out there for your tax dollars,” Friedman said.
The campaign to have the voters renew the levy comes as the Port of Cleveland is processing more cargo than ever. Built to handle 100,000 shipping containers, the port had been processing between 5,000 to 10,000 containers per year.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
The logistics and shipping challenges brought on by the pandemic proved to be a boon for the Port of Cleveland, which reported a 69 percent increase in tonnage across its docks in 2021. This year could be more of the same.
“We’re kind of a relief valve for all those ports that are all clogged up,” Friedman said. “We want to capitalize on that momentum and use that to spring into more maritime services at the port.”
Although the Port of Cleveland is commonly associated with shipping, logistics, heavy industry and cargo, the Port Authority has been an integral part in multiple economic development initiatives in recent years, notably the East Bank Flats and the upcoming Irishtown Bend stabilization project. The financing arm of the Port Authority has provided the needed underwriting.
Ana Burns, a member of the Cuyahoga River Area of Concern Advisory Committee, said the Port Authority has also been a crucial partner in protecting the water quality at the river, harbor and lake.
“It plays a great role in improving our green spaces and making them more accessible to the public,” Burns said. “It absolutely plays an integral part to the river’s health [by helping] to keep our river clean from debris. That’s what has allowed us to have our kayakers make it further up the river for the past several years. When you think of the port authority, you think of things like [industry, manufacturing], the shipyards, the boat channels, the actual port activity that happens. You don’t think so much about all the wonderful things that they are doing to help our green spaces.”