Jefferson Township trustees say they hope to work collaboratively with the community to keep the township solvent after rescinding a resolution that would have given township residents an opportunity to establish a joint-economic-development-zone contract between the township and Gahanna.
Trustees Mike Rowan and Claire Yoder on April 23 voted to rescind the measure. Rich Courter abstained because he has a business in the proposed development zone.
Trustees chairman Rowan said if one good thing came out of the JEDZ process, it's that everyone is aware of the financial problem that needs resolved.
If the JEDZ had gone to the ballot and had been approved by township voters May 6, it would have generated $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, said Tom Spring, township administrator.
"The focus is, where do we go from here," Rowan told ThisWeek. "Everyone is aware of the financial problems. It's 2015 when the township will have to start cutting into services. If there's one good thing that came out of this, everyone is aware there's a financial problem we have to resolve. I hope we can do that together."
Rowan: Financial scrutiny increasingly critical
Rowan said the township needs to seriously consider what happens in the near future.
"The township is in jeopardy of maybe being incorporated or merging with Columbus or Gahanna," he said. "We don't have a lot of choices. We have to raise revenue to keep the township intact or do something drastic no one wants to do."
Eric W. Stover, treasurer of a political action committee called Citizens Against Gahanna Taxation in Jefferson Township, commended the trustees for rescinding the issue on the May 6 ballot. Thought it still will appear, votes won't count.
Stover said he and many business neighbors didn't know what a JEDZ was until January.
The JEDZ would have subjected people who work in a defined area to Gahanna's 1.5-percent income tax that would have been collected by the Regional Income Tax Agency. The zone would have included businesses between Taylor Road and the township's southern border in Reynoldsburg.
"The people of Jefferson Township -- the employees and taxpayers -- didn't feel this JEDZ was the right vehicle for the township's budget," said Stover, co-owner of Besa Lighting in Blacklick.
Stover: Perhaps business group could be restarted
Through the process, Stover said, he met many of his business neighbors.
"We learned there used to be a Jefferson Township Business Association 10 to 15 years ago," he said.
Stover said some business owners have talked about re-establishing the group.
"We feel we have expertise and we have different skill sets from the jobs we work at every day to bring experience to the board," he said. "We anticipate to stick together and to stay communicating with one another."
Stover said he would like to get a better understanding of the township's revenues and expenses.
Gahanna Mayor Becky Stinchcomb said it's unfortunate the residents of Jefferson Township wouldn't have the opportunity to vote on Issue 25 and that he and Jefferson Township trustees believed they had no choice but to remove the issue from the ballot.
Addition of revenues vs. division of community
Rowan told ThisWeek the trustees felt a sense of polarization and harm being done to relationships with the business community and many residents.
"We were afraid those relationships couldn't be saved if we went forward," he said.
Stinchcomb said she's disappointed that Issue 25 supporters were unable to counteract inaccurate information disseminated by the opposition to inform voters of the many positive benefits a JEDZ would have brought to township residents.
"The city of Gahanna responded when our neighbors approached us to partner with them on creating this potential development tool," she said. "At this point, it is my hope that two things will result from this recent ballot process: that the good faith with which we worked with township leaders will only strengthen our relationship on economic development and other future partnerships."
Second, she said, is that she hopes the township's business community and residents could work much more closely with leaders to honestly face up to their revenue shortages and find ways to solve the funding challenges they face.
"It is my understanding that this improved communication has already begun as a direct result of this ballot process," Stinchcomb said.
Trustee: It's time to focus on 'where we go from here'
Rowan said the township has limited options, but he's optimistic.
"We will start meeting with residents and business owners and talk about where we go from here," he said. "We need a solution, and we need it fast. We're operating on carryover money and savings. That runs out in 2015. There's nowhere else to go. We can't do anything but cut and cut drastically."
Rowan said he feels energy within the community, though.
"I hope it will be an initiative pushed by the residents rather than pushed on residents by the trustees," he said. "With the JEDZ, I talked to a lot of people. I think there's a real grassroots movement to make sure the township survives and is thriving.
"Until the JEDZ came up, people didn't realize how bleak our financial situation was. I'm hopeful and energized," he said. "The residents are promoting this. That's what you need. You can't move legislation and people if they aren't ready and willing. Now it seems there's a group of citizens who see the urgency. I hope we can accomplish some things and work together."
Spring said a lot of misinformation was promulgated by opponents who claimed that lands could be added to the zone, though the contract prohibited such action; that legal fees were more than double the actual amount; and that the tax would be instituted by Gahanna rather than by a separate entity.
He said the township would like to support the business community, but that is a two-way street.
"Our streets are crumbling," Spring said. "Being the lowest-taxed township in Franklin County keeps taxes low but has made it difficult to fund even basic levels of service for our 10,000-plus residents, the county's third-largest township population."
Because ballots already have been printed, the issue will appear on the ballot, but votes will not count.
Ben Piscitelli, spokesman for the Franklin County Board of Elections, said notices would be posted in polling places to inform voters that any votes cast for Issue 25 would not be counted.
This is the second JEDZ to be pulled from the ballot in Franklin County. Perry Township trustees withdrew their ballot measure to work with Worthington after several residents and a few business owners expressed strong opposition.
A bill is going through the state legislature to prohibit future JEDZ attempts by townships.