Licking County News

Etna's JEDZ deal will be on Aug. 5 ballot

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The Etna Township trustees voted unanimously last week to place a joint economic-development zone plan on the Aug. 5 special-election ballot, but the measure could be re-evaluated if trustees find another way to fund infrastructure work.

Some residents spoke in favor of the JEDZ, but several business owners and employees opposed it during a May 5 public hearing.

Trustee John Carlisle said township officials are expected to meet with business owners in the proposed JEDZ to determine other funding solutions that could pay for road improvements.

"The businesses would like to come up with an alternate method to raise funds," Carlisle said. "We're ready, willing and able to look at alternate funding sources."

Carlisle said the township could re-evaluate the JEDZ if an alternate source of funding were identified.

As it stands, the proposed JEDZ would allow Reynoldsburg to collect a 1.5 percent income tax on 1,497 acres in Etna Township on each corner of Interstate 70 and state Route 310 and the remaining properties in the Etna Corporate Park.

The JEDZ would incorporate 58 parcels and several businesses in the corporate park, including: Ascena Retail Group, Best Lighting Products, Michael Shank Racing and the Ridge Corp.

The JEDZ is for a 99-year term, Etna Township Administrator Rob Platte said.

Township officials have estimated the JEDZ could generate $400,000 annually, with 70 percent going to Etna Township, 20 percent to Reynoldsburg and 10 percent to a JEDZ-improvement fund.

Etna would use JEDZ funds for road projects, such as the state's planned improvements to the state Route 310 bridge that spans Interstate 70.

The $12.5 million bridge project will be funded by $6.5 million from the Mid-Ohio Regional Development Commission and $3.5 million from the federal government. Etna Township is expected to pay the rest, approximately $2.5 million, according to Platte.

The state plans to replace the bridge deck, increase the number of lanes and provide pedestrian access across I-70 with an elevated concrete sidewalk on the bridge.

Platte said the money also could be used for improvements to the Etna Corporate Park.

Etna Township has two other JEDZs; one includes four buildings in the Etna Corporate Park developed by ProLogis and the other includes vacant land owned by ProLogis south of U.S. Route 40, Platte said.

The city of Newark collects the 1.75 percent income tax for both JEDZs but only the properties in the Etna Corporate Park are generating revenue, he said.

Both JEDZ agreements are for 30 years.

Carlisle said Etna Township requested proposals from Newark, Pataskala and Reynoldsburg when researching the potential third JEDZ and chose Reynoldsburg.

He said as part of the JEDZ agreement with the city, Etna has made an annexation agreement that would set a border for the city's encroachment into Etna Township about 650 feet west of Summit Road.

JEDZ agreements recently have come under fire in other parts of central Ohio.

Reynoldsburg City Council voted 6-0 on May 5 to approve the JEDZ agreement with Etna.

However, attorney John W. Zeiger told Reynoldsburg officials at the meeting that the agreement would leave Reynoldsburg vulnerable to paying expensive legal fees.

Zeiger said his firm, Zeiger, Tigges & Little, has been retained to represent Ascena Retail Group, which, he said, is the largest employer in the proposed JEDZ.

He said the contract would make Reynoldsburg "contractually obligated" for 100 percent of the legal fees if the JEDZ is challenged.

Another potential obstacle is that the state legislature is considering a bill that would eliminate the JEDZ. Carlisle said that legislation is in the senate's finance committee for review.

He said the township is working under current law, which doesn't allow townships to collect an income tax but does allow a township to partner with a neighboring municipality to collect the tax.

Finally, JEDZs proposed by Perry Township -- with taxes to be collected by Worthington -- and Jefferson Township -- with taxes to be collected by Gahanna -- were removed from the May primary ballot by trustees in those townships after residents and businesses complained about them.

ThisWeek staff writers Pamela Willis and Marla Kuhlman and Dispatch staff writer Eric Lyttle contributed to this story.

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