Pataskala residents gathering referendum signatures for a second time this fall might be doing so in vain, according to the city's law director.

Pataskala residents gathering referendum signatures for a second time this fall might be doing so in vain, according to the city's law director.

Mike Fox and others are circulating petitions for a referendum on Pataskala City Council's amendment to tax-increment-financing (TIF) legislation for the Job Ready Site, south of Broad Street and east of Mink Road.

The amendment, passed by council this month, removed any reference to an agreement made with ProLogis, a development company that was expected to develop the 525-acre site. ProLogis since has removed itself from the project, but the city and local property owners are moving forward with development at the site.

Council waived second and third readings of the amendment Sept. 15 so the legislation would take effect in 30 days.

After that meeting, Fox, a former council member, expressed concerns about passing legislation without the proper time for review. He said council members received the draft legislation Sept. 12 and passed it Sept. 15.

He started filings for a referendum that week.

Pataskala law director Rufus Hurst said last week that the amendment might not be able to be put on the ballot as a referendum. He said any type of development project or municipal project that requires several pieces of legislation allows a referendum only on the first piece of legislation. In this case, Pataskala City Council approved the original TIF agreement, which included revenue-sharing agreements with ProLogis, in 2007. Council passed that legislation as an emergency so it would take effect immediately. Hurst said emergency legislation is not subject to a referendum.

Fox said he opposed that legislation, too, but decided not to take the city to court over the matter.

Hurst said he looks to have a final opinion issued on the legality of the referendum this week.

"It's still being reviewed," he said. "But my preliminary review suggests that that may not be" subject to a referendum.

Kevin Kidder of the Ohio Secretary of State's Office said the office is reviewing the issue, but he could not confirm or deny Hurst's preliminary findings as of Friday afternoon.

Fox said he's not anti-development, but he doesn't support the TIF because tax revenues are diverted for too long and could hurt local residents.

Through a TIF, increased property taxes from development are diverted to a separate fund. Payments are made back to the school districts in this type of a TIF, and the rest of the funds may be used for infrastructure projects in the TIF area.

The TIF Pataskala approved is a 30-year agreement, and TIF revenues are expected to help pay off debt the city would incur in building a road and putting in water and sewer lines for development of the site. A $3.4-million state grant and county funding also are being used for the road construction.

"The citizens need to get a return in 15 years," Fox said.

Pataskala city administrator Timothy Boland said last week that TIF money used to repay debt could pay off debts early. If that occurs, the city could stop having the TIF revenue diverted into the separate fund, meaning the additional revenue then would be distributed with the rest of the property taxes.

The referendum, if legally possible and if enough signatures are obtained, would not appear on the ballot until November 2009. Licking County commissioners have said they are concerned about its possibility because the TIF is expected to pay off some of the debt incurred for the project. Licking County already has committed money for engineering plans for the road to be built through the site, and county officials expect to be paid back through several revenue streams being created as part of the development.