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OCDA, Commission Separate Their Finances

May 9, 2013
By SHELLEY HANSON Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

As the Ohio County Development Authority works to bring in new tenants, it also is planning to pay off debt owed to the Ohio County Commission.

Randy Wharton, county commissioner and OCDA member, said he expects by the end of this month that all debt owed to the commission will be paid in full.

He previously estimated that would happen by the end of June, but he now believes it will be done by May's end.

After a past meeting, Administrator Greg Stewart estimated the amount to be paid back at $700,000 to $800,000. The money, Wharton said, was used to help jump start development at The Highlands, to help construct new space for tenants.

Wharton also noted the financial books of the OCDA and commission now are separate - a move that not only is just good business but something state auditors encouraged the OCDA to do in past reviews.

''The development authority will pay back all the money it had advanced over the years that was used to push the development along,'' Wharton said. ''During the last year, we've separated the two entities completely.''

The separation, he noted, includes separate payrolls for OCDA employees.

''It's a good way to do business,'' he said.

Wharton also addressed the future of the planned Wild Escape Theme Park. Conceived by developer Steve Minard, a groundbreaking for Wild Escape was held in 2006. Despite Minard being able to secure the necessary environmental permits for the site, the project never got off the ground.

Wharton noted, however, the future of the project is solely up to Minard, as the OCDA never had a financial stake in getting it started. He noted, however, the project will never happen if a second Interstate 70 interchange is not built to provide a back entrance to the site.

''A second interchange was always part of what needed to happen before it could be built,'' Wharton said.

The OCDA, however, has not had much luck in getting state funding for the interchange, though its drawings for the structure were laid out several years ago.

''If we made a mistake by letting (Minard) make the announcement early, then we made a mistake,'' Wharton said.

Commissioner and OCDA member Orphy Klempa previously said plans for the theme park were stalled by the slow economy.

The OCDA, he noted, wanted to make sure it didn't jeopardize development of the site by jumping into a large project too soon. He said there still are future plans for some sort of water park or recreation for the site. But whether it will be Wild Escape remains to be seen.

Minard said Wednesday that he is coordinating with Stewart on the OCDA's progress in securing a new interchange.

''We need to know where the roads will go and make sure it stays that way,'' Minard said.

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