Local officials agree they don't want to lose a $3.4-million state grant to build a road in Pataskala and Etna Township. But they can't agree on how to raise other funding needed and build the road before the grant deadline.

Local officials agree they don't want to lose a $3.4-million state grant to build a road in Pataskala and Etna Township. But they can't agree on how to raise other funding needed and build the road before the grant deadline.

"I think the chamber supports moving forward with the project and the economic development that it might be able to generate for this area," said Bart Weiler, vice president of the Pataskala Area Chamber of Commerce. "If we do lose the money, we may never get the opportunity to generate that (type of funding) for this area."

The Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority originally applied for a Job Ready Sites (JRS) grant to build a 14,400-foot long road from 525 acres at Broad Street and Mink Road in Pataskala south to the Etna Corporate Park.

After the $3.4-million grant was awarded, the port authority turned the project over to Licking County. The county advertised for partners to build the road and ProLogis, a development company, was chosen for the project. The company agreed to fund the road and be paid back through revenue sharing agreements being put in place.

ProLogis has since pulled out of the project, with company officials citing economic woes, which has left Pataskala and Licking County officials struggling to make the project work.

Jerry Brems, director of the Licking County Planning Department, said the county has simplified the engineering plans to save money and is working to find other funding sources and other development partners. But county commissioner Mark Van Buren said the more simplified version still requires someone to come up with $750,000 to get the road built.

"We're still exploring several options," Brems said. "The issue is the short term financing of the project. It could be four to five years until development (on the site) begins to occur."

Pataskala Mayor Steve Butcher said the city does not have funds to move forward alone. Operating without an income tax and failing recently to renew property tax levies, the city already is in the process of cutting services.

Butcher said the city generates more than $700,000 in tax revenue for Licking County and he wants the county to fund the rest of the project and be paid back through revenue streams that can be linked to development of the site.

"We have all the bonding ability in the world but no financial ability to repay a bond," he said. "I don't think it's unreasonable on a project this size to ask the county to play that role."

Butcher added that projections show if the site is developed for manufacturing uses it could create 1,600 jobs and stimulate the area's economy.

But at least two Licking County commissioners are not convinced that the county's general fund should be used for the project.

"I don't believe the ball's in our court," said Commissioner Tim Bubb. "We feel there are other potential partners out there and we'd like to see another partner enter the equation: Private sector involvement with the land owner."

Bubb mentioned that the road is not on publically owned property, and added, "It's not our responsibility to build a road on someone's private property."

Howard and Rosemary Emsweiler, who own the majority of the 525 developable acres in Pataskala, already have agreed to hold 305 acres of that for one user -- as required in the JRS grant -- and donated 34 acres of right of way for the road to be built through their property. Connie Klema, attorney for the Emsweilers, said the family recently agreed to pay $2-million to whatever entity builds the road after the property is sold.

"This is an important contribution by the property owner, which offsets the cost of building the road," Brems said.

But the question of financing remains, since the Emsweilers' funding would not be available until after the property is sold for development, which could take four to five years in the current economic climate.

"Another part of the equation is that real estate values have changed dramatically," said Commissioner Doug Smith. "We're waiting to see what (new) partners are willing to ante up in a down economy and how that will be received by the property owner. That's the potential obstacle in all this."

Smith said he expects some new partners to come forward soon and he hopes the project can move forward.

Commissioner Van Buren has suggested the county determine how much of the road can be built using the $3.4-million only and no other funding. He said then the county and Pataskala could seek out developers willing to help finish the project.

"We need to all come together and find out how to bring the pieces back together to try and make this work," Van Buren said.

Brems already has asked the state for an extension on the grant, which requires the road be built by December 2009. He said he hopes to have more information on the project to present to the county in two weeks.