A provision in the Ohio Senate’s version of the budget would place the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake under the control of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, if it becomes law.
State Senator Sandra O’Brien (R-Ashtabula) announced in a press release on Wednesday that language was included in the Ohio Senate’s budget bill to accelerate the timetable for the state to assume control of the lodge.
“For years, the taxpayers of Ashtabula County have been unfairly burdened by the Geneva-on-the-Lake Lodge expenses.” O’Brien said in the press release. “Our proposal in the Senate’s budget not only more evenly distributes that burden, but also cuts taxes and provides funding for essential services to families across northeast Ohio.”
The language in Substitute House Bill 110 directs the Director of Natural Resources to enter into an agreement with the county to assume ownership of the lodge, and any outstanding notes, principal or interest from its construction, by Dec. 31, 2021. The bill also requires the Department of Natural Resources to assume maintenance, operations and any other costs of running the lodge.
A separate section of the bill allocates $3.65 million to make lease or mortgage payments, or pay operating costs of the lodge through fiscal year 2023.
Ashtabula County Commissioner Casey Kozlowski stressed that the legislation was still fluid, and the provision could be removed before the bill is passed and signed into law.
On Thursday, the Ohio House refused to concur with the Senate version of the bill, according to legislature records.
The bill will then go to a conference committee, Kozlowski said.
“It’s not necessarily a done deal at this time,” he said.
Currently, the lodge is financed by two bond series, one from 2013 and one from 2020, Ashtabula County Auditor Dave Thomas said. There is still $13.1 million in debt from the construction of the lodge, and it could be paid off in 2031, he said.
“The debt payment on this, which is a little over a million dollars a year, is a heavy burden on the county’s general fund, on just the county finances,” Thomas said.
The payments are funded through property tax, profit from the lodge, rent from the lease of the land, bed tax funds, a fixed amount from the Convention and Visitors Bureau and a portion of filing fees from the Auditor’s Office, Thomas said.
Thomas called the way the lodge was financed an absolute disaster.
Thomas said he was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of the state takeover of the lodge in the budget. The lodge is a great asset for the county, he said.
“If we can essentially keep the lodge a still net positive for the county, same management type of thing, just remove the debt obligation, that’s a great thing,” Thomas said.
Kozlowski said the lodge benefits the county greatly.
“From the perspective of the debt, it’s always been a burden of the county,” Kozlowski said. “So the opportunity to transition to state ownership while preserving the asset we have here in our back yard, and the county being freed of that debt obligation, certainly would be a big win for Ashtabula County.”
Whether or not Delaware North would continue to manage the lodge is still up in the air, Kozlowski said.
“All those items remain fluid at the moment, and will be I guess ironed out essentially as part of the legislative process, or the transitional process,” he said.
The original agreement with the state would have allowed the state to take over the lodge after the construction debt was paid off, Kozlowski said.
“My goal in all of this is to ensure that the facility is as successful as possible, and that is the plan moving forward, and the only thing that changes is the ownership of the building, paying the debt service,” Kozlowski said.