Rocky Fork Enterprise

May 6 elections

Jefferson Township residents to decide on JEDZ

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Jefferson Township residents on May 6 will decide whether a joint-economic-development-zone contract is approved between the township and Gahanna.

If voters approve the JEDZ, township administrator Tom Spring said, it would generate about $1 million annually to support township services to the JEDZ area directly through economic development and support and indirectly through sustaining the continuance of general services that benefit the township.

Passage would subject people who work in the JEDZ area to Gahanna's 1.5-percent income tax. The city would retain 20 percent of the revenue for administering collections.

The JEDZ area would include businesses between Taylor Road and the township's southern border in Reynoldsburg. It also would include businesses that are adjacent to Gahanna, as well as school district and government properties within the unincorporated area of the township.

The net JEDZ revenue would be distributed as follows: Gahanna-Jefferson and Licking Heights school districts, combined 4 percent via a school-safety grant program; Jefferson Township JEDZ area improvements, 6 percent; Jefferson Township, 70 percent; and city of Gahanna, 20 percent.

Township trustees chairman Mike Rowan told ThisWeek the proposed JEDZ came about after the township had five real estate levies fail at the ballot box. Some of those measures were for roads; others were for roads and parks; and some were for general operating funds.

The township began looking at the possibility of a JEDZ for revenue in March 2012, after the unsuccessful levy attempts.

"After the last election, the message from the residents was to find an alternative to higher real estate taxes," Rowan said. "They wanted us to find a solution to the revenue problem. So we looked for alternatives."

He said the only other option was the proposed JEDZ.

"It's an opportunity the state of Ohio established for townships to partner with cities to create an economic development zone that allows us to raise revenue from businesses and employees of those businesses," he said. "We share borders, school districts and other shared services with Gahanna. The law intended you to find a municipal partner you have common goals with."

Per state law, townships aren't allowed to collect income taxes. In the mid-1990s, however, lawmakers gave townships an tax-sharing alternative. By allowing townships to find a municipal partner that has an income tax in place, a JEDZ could be created, with the municipal partner serving as administrator.

Gahanna has a 1.5-percent income tax.

"If we're going to try to increase the revenue from commercial areas, we have to invest back in those commercial areas," Rowan said. "We have to provide incentives for businesses. It's a way to invest back into the commercial zone you're creating."

Six percent of the revenue collected from the JEDZ would go back into the zone for improvements.

Rowan said he wants township residents to understand that it's a tax that applies only to those working within the JEDZ.

"For most of the people who work in the JEDZ, they get a credit or offset on the tax because they're already paying someone," he said. "We have a lot of employees in the township paying a tax, but it's leaving the township and going where they live. We want to keep that here."

Gahanna development director Anthony Jones said the city was approached by Jefferson Township to partner to create the JEDZ.

"Law requires townships to contract with municipalities for the administration of income tax," he said. "Since Gahanna and Jefferson Township have a cooperative working relationship, we were happy to enter into this partnership with them."

Although Gahanna City Council and the township trustees voted to approve the contract, only township voters decide whether the contract would be executed.

If township voters approve, Jones said, the JEDZ will generate revenues that would help attract new businesses to the region and provide funding to help make school districts in the area safer for students, staff members and teachers.

He said the proposed JEDZ is unusual because it provides the school component.

Spring has said it made sense to partner with Gahanna, from a geographic standpoint and due to a mutual interest in schools.

"The JEDZ will also assist in leveraging funds for grants to make needed infrastructure improvements," Jones said. "The Gahanna-Jefferson Township JEDZ is a testament to the government collaboration that is essential to providing cost-effective public services to our citizens."

Examples provided by the township concerning how JEDZ funds would be used are as follows:

* A full-time fire-prevention officer to conduct life-safety reviews of commercial building plans, conduct safety inspections and work with business owners, managers, developers, and schools.

* A business-outreach program to augment a community comprehensive plan.

* Assistance in proactively marketing development sites.

* Incentive programs.

* A property-maintenance program to help ensure that the community is an attractive and inviting place to do business, to shore up property values and to protect the community's core values.

* A township road repair and resurfacing program.

* Grants to help make school districts within the JEDZ safer for students, teachers and staff members.

If approved, the JEDZ could be effective later this year.

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