The Etna Township trustees on July 7 voted 3-0 in a special meeting to remove a joint economic-development zone from the Aug. 5 special-election ballot, leaving the fate of a state Route 310 widening project in limbo, according to township officials.
“We have said from day one of making the application (for funding to the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission) that we have to find an alternate funding source to pay for it. If we don’t have funding, we can’t move forward with it,” said John Carlisle, chairman of the board of trustees.
However, Erika Pfeifer, spokeswoman for ODOT District 5, said the project would move forward.
“We will continue to work with the locals to help identify additional funding sources available to cover their share,” she said.
Etna Township planned to partner with Reynoldsburg on the JEDZ, which, if it had been approved by voters in Etna Township, would have allowed Reynoldsburg to collect a 1.5-percent income tax on 1,497 acres in Etna Township at each corner of Interstate 70 and state Route 310 and the remaining properties in the Etna Corporate Park.
Township officials 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 had planned to use its revenue for road projects, such as the planned improvements to the state Route 310 bridge that spans Interstate 70.
Pfeifer said construction costs have been estimated at $12.7 million, with $600,000 needed for right-of-way acquisition.
ODOT is expected to contribute $4.5 million, with $7.05 million from MORPC. Pfeifer said Etna Township is expected to pay the rest, or $1,760,000.
Pfeifer said there is a $10,000 discrepancy in those figures because the amounts being used are estimated costs. She said those are the most up-to-date figures and warned that they could change slightly as the project progresses.
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.
Residents, businesses and employees who work in the Etna Corporate Park were critical of the proposed JEDZ before the Ascena Retail Group, one of the businesses the would have been included in the zone, filed a lawsuit May 27 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.
The Ascena Retail Group claimed both Reynoldsburg City Council and Etna Township trustees met either privately or in executive session in violation of Ohio’s open meetings law before they voted May 5 to approve the JEDZ contract and the special election.
The complaint also named the Licking County Board of Elections as a defendant.
Reynoldsburg City Council on June 30 voted to repeal the JEDZ plan with the township.
Etna Township followed suit July 7, a move that Trustee Randy Foor called “disappointing.”
Foor said he could not speak further about the lawsuit but said it would be “difficult for us to move forward (on the 310 project) without that source of revenue, for sure.”
Carlisle said Ohio House Bill 289 also forced the township to remove the legislation from the August ballot.
The bill, signed into law June 5, repeals section 715.69 of the Ohio Revised Code and terminates “the authority to create new alternative joint economic-development zones or substantially modify existing alternative JEDZs after Dec. 31, 2014.”
The legislation also requires “the creation of review councils to approve the economic-development plans for alternative JEDZs created or substantially amended before that date, to eliminate municipal-only JEDZs, to authorize municipal corporations to create municipal-utility districts for economic development purposes and to allow existing municipal-only JEDZs to continue operating as MUDs.”
“It was cut and dried,” Carlisle said. “We got sued and House Bill 289 changed the JEDZ requirements, so we had no choice.”
ThisWeek reporter Pamela Willis contributed to this story.