Port considering formation of loan review board

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The Lincoln County Port Authority aims to assemble a three-person board to help oversee its USDA-backed loan program.

Tina Oliphant, the Port’s executive director, proposed the board to the Lincoln County Commission at its Feb. 28 meeting.

As proposed, the board will have the authority to approve loans from a fund made possible by the USDA’s Intermediary Relending Program.

According to a fact sheet Oliphant prepared for the Commission, the purpose of the economic development program, which disburses 30-year term loans at 1 percent interest, “is to enhance community access to financing when other sources are not adequate.”

Lending decisions are not tied to specific outcomes such as jobs, Oliphant wrote, “allowing more flexibility in determining the economic benefits of this tool.”

The Port went through “a long and very competitive process” getting access to the funds, Oliphant wrote.

The Port applied in 2014 and in 2016 was awarded access to up to $500,000 in loans to be used within three years. To be eligible for that amount, the Port was required to commit to a cash match of $250,000, for a total amount of available funds of $750,000.

Currently, $264,000 of that amount has been loaned out — $220,000 in USDA funds and $44,000 in matching funds from the Port. That leaves $486,000 available — $280,000 from the USDA, which must be disbursed within 1.5 years, and $206,000 from the Port.

According to the fact sheet, all loan payments are recycled — that is, “principal and interest stays with the Port Authority and is available to relend.”

Oliphant proposes that the loan review board be separate from and report to the Port’s five-member governing board and be comprised of people with “a bank presence” and savvy in credit risk, deal structure and economic development. She also proposed flexibility to enlarge the board to 5, 7 or 9 members “over time as needed to provide backup for potential conflict of interest and unavailability.”

The three commissioners sit on the Port’s recently restructured governing board, which is awaiting the addition of two members.

Oliphant told the commissioners she had gauged the interest of several suitable people in the community, and they asked her to present her recommendations at a later date.

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