Liberty Township workers stood up to oppose the creation of a Joint Economic Development Zone during Powell City Council's July 17 meeting.
That night, council had its first reading of the contract, which was unveiled at a June 14 meeting of the Liberty Township board of trustees.
Establishing a JEDZ would allow Powell and Liberty Township to collect funds that originate as income taxes at Bexley's rate of 2.5 percent until 2043. The income taxes would be collected from workers whose companies are within the zone's boundaries, which include Liberty Township-owned properties, Olentangy schools located in Liberty Township, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Zoombezi Bay, Safari Golf Course, Del-Co Water, Delaware County Sanitary and Columbus State Community College's Delaware branch.
Research conducted by Powell officials shows the parcels in the proposed JEDZ have an estimated annual payroll of $52 million. If the 2.5 percent income tax is applied, that would add an estimated $1.3 million to the JEDZ fund. Of those earnings, 85.8 percent would be allocated to Powell and 14.2 percent to Bexley. A separate contract would split Powell's share, allocating half of it to Liberty Township.
Once the funds are allocated, 3 percent would have to be paid to Bexley to cover its costs for acting as the tax collector, and 2 percent would be used to cover legal fees and a state-required audit.
Estimates show fewer than 5 percent of Liberty Township residents would be affected by the JEDZ-imposed income tax, meaning out-of-town workers would make up the majority of those whose pay would be redirected. Whether a worker's income taxes would be raised or remain the same if the JEDZ went into effect would depend on the tax rate and tax credits available in his or her home city.
"I come to work in your community. I don't use any amenities," said Chad Morgan, who works at the zoo and lives in Columbus, where the income tax rate is 2.5 percent. "I'd rather have that money go to the city I live in."
Three other workers told council they feel they've been unfairly targeted by the JEDZ map.
Carmen Wirtz works in the township but lives in Marysville and currently pays a 1.5 percent income tax.
"You're going to be unfairly taxing the people who serve your community," Wirtz said, pointing to the fact that only nonprofit organizations were included in the map.
"It makes me uncomfortable to put certain people in a certain basket," Councilwoman Sara Marie Brenner said.
She said will be unable to attend the second reading of the ordinance to approve the JEDZ contract Aug. 6, but told her peers she would vote against it.
Township officials have said the zone was chosen specifically because the employers included are all property-tax exempt.
Liberty Township firefighter and union President Chalaco Clark said he wouldn't take a firm stance on the issue, but explained to council how the department would be affected if the JEDZ is approved by Powell and township voters in November.
He said 23 of the 41 firefighters would lose a total of $52,673 from their paychecks.
"This is a significant amount of money taken out of our pockets," Clark said. "This would take our wages back to what they were in 2008."
When Liberty Township Trustee Melanie Leneghan spoke before council, she pointed out that six unions would be affected by the JEDZ, which is just one of the reasons she opposes it. She said it's inevitable that firefighters will come to the bargaining table in 2015 asking for raises to recoup their income-tax losses.
Liberty Township Trustee Curt Sybert also was on hand to introduce the JEDZ and offer his support of it.
The only crowd member who had a positive view of the proposal was Liberty Township resident Max Holzer, who told council he was in "strong favor" of the JEDZ because "the beneficiaries of it are the citizens."
No official plan has been laid out explaining what projects would receive funding if the JEDZ is passed. Sybert told council the money can be spent in any way, so the possibilities are endless. But it could include connecting all the city and township bike paths and fixing roads.
Because of the complex nature of the JEDZ, Brenner asked if placing the issue on the ballot could be delayed until the primary election in May -- especially since it reminds her of the 2010 income-tax issue on the Powell ballot that failed because, she said, council failed to spell out how the additional funds would be spent.
"When you stand back and look at it, it looks like a money grab," she said.
Councilman Tom Counts said he will think long and hard about how he'll vote on the contract.
"Is there a need for services and capital improvements in Liberty Township?" he asked. "Are we a better or worse community if we do or do not have these improvements? Those are the questions I'll be asking myself."
Council asked city Law Director Gene Hollins to report back at the next meeting with a history of JEDZ agreements in Ohio.
A vote is expected on the JEDZ contract at council's next meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 6 in Powell City Hall.