Olentangy Valley News

JEDZ's dead (for now) after possible public-notice snafu

Controversial tax pact among township, city, Bexley had been aimed for fall ballot

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

It seems the arguing among government leaders, residents and workers that's ensued since June 14, when a Joint Economic Development Zone was proposed by Liberty Township, Powell and Bexley, was all for naught.

On Monday, July 29, Liberty Township Administrator Dave Anderson and Powell City Manager Steve Lutz sent out announcements canceling that night's scheduled public hearing, stating the JEDZ contract would not be placed on the November ballot.

As for why the meeting was canceled, the two entities gave opposing reasons.

"Attorney Don Brosius has confirmed the city of Powell's advertising process did not properly reflect the 30 days' public notice period for their public hearing on the JEDZ," Anderson wrote. "As such, the Liberty Township board of trustees meeting scheduled for tonight at 7:30 is canceled; and consequently, the JEDZ question will not proceed to the board of elections, nor the fall ballot."

Powell spokeswoman Megan Canavan said city attorneys had been working to determine if there was an issue with the notifications prior to the 2:30 p.m. announcement that the meeting had been canceled.

"According to our legal team, we did, in fact, comply with what we needed to do in order to notify the public in advance so that it could appear on the November ballot," she said.

"Basically, what we did is we followed the timeline given to us from the township and we issued our public notice and had a reading of the JEDZ proposal during the July 16 meeting, and planned for a second reading of the JEDZ at our Aug. 6 meeting," Canavan added.

Brosius, of the law Firm Loveland & Brosius, which serves as counsel to Liberty Township, said state law requires 30 days' notice be given before a public hearing.

The city of Powell submitted its notice July 3 to the Delaware Gazette. The notice stated that July 16, when Powell City Council held its first hearing of the JEDZ ordinance, would serve as the public meeting.

Brosius said the notice should have listed Aug. 6, when council planned to vote on the measure, as its public hearing date.

"It's devastating, but it's the way the statute works," Brosius said.

Trustee Curt Sybert said during multiple JEDZ discussions that he had worked for years to build the JEDZ, which he said could unite the township and the city while bringing in additional revenue.

He announced at the July 16 council meeting that he would not seek re-election in November and instead would focus on promoting the JEDZ.

Sybert, who often called implementing the JEDZ "a no-brainer," even had begun preliminary work on building a political action committee to fund the JEDZ campaign.

"As you can imagine, I'm disappointed, but I'm looking forward to maybe discussing the issue further," Sybert said.

Establishing a JEDZ would have allowed Powell and Liberty Township to collect funds that originated as income taxes at the city of Bexley's rate of 2.5 percent until 2043.

The income taxes would be collected from workers whose companies fall 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. Whether a worker's taxes would have been raised is dependent on where they live.

Powell research shows the parcels in the proposed JEDZ have an estimated annual payroll of $52 million. If the 2.5-percent income tax were applied, it would have added an estimated $1.3 million to the JEDZ fund.

Of the JEDZ earnings, 85.8 percent would have been 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 were allocated, 3 percent would have been paid to Bexley to cover its costs for acting as the tax collector and 2 percent would have been used to cover legal fees and a state-required audit.

Brosius said the JEDZ contract has no time constraint on it, meaning that despite the notification slip up, trustees could pursue it in the future.

Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler said his city, which was set to have its JEDZ public hearing Tuesday, July 30, would be willing to share its income tax rate with a new board of trustees if they were to take up the issue.

"We would be happy to help out and would again offer an ultra-competitive split for any future proposed JEDZ, as well as our support with sharing city services and expertise," Kessler said. "We will take our cues from Liberty Township, whose leadership needs to determine what is best for their township and how to best grow their township and help it to thrive moving forward."

Whether a JEDZ will gain support from a new board come January is unknown, but the contract's opponents have made themselves well-known.

Powell Councilwoman Sara Marie Brenner forwarded Lutz's email about the meeting cancellation through a Friends of Powell email list. In her portion of the forwarded email, she wrote, "Success!!! The JEDZ has been withdrawn and the meeting tonight is canceled."

Brenner said at the July 16 council meeting that she opposed the JEDZ because how the money would be spent was not laid out in the plan and because it would implement taxes on those who might not have the opportunity to vote on the JEDZ.

She joined township Trustee Melanie Leneghan in her disapproval of the proposal.

Leneghan brought forward multiple complaints against the JEDZ, including that she felt the township didn't need the extra cash and that the contract would create extra, unnecessary layers of government.

But her main concern was that unions would be affected by the additional taxes a JEDZ would implement, she said.

Those workers who would have faced a tax increase if a JEDZ were approved on the November ballot were expected to show up at this week's Liberty Township public hearing.

"The township (Sybert and Anderson) notified us that they were anticipating picketing and a vocal group opposing the proposed JEDZ," Powell City Manager Steve Lutz wrote in the email announcing the meeting cancellation.

Despite a concerted effort on the part of naysayers, Sybert said he was confident the JEDZ would have passed had it made it to the ballot -- which is why he thinks the topic hasn't had its last breath.

He wouldn't comment on how the already strained relationship between Powell and Liberty Township would fare now that they're not required by the JEDZ contract to amend the Cooperative Economic Development Agreement that outlines annexation rules.

Powell Mayor Rich Cline, who expressed favor for the contract when it was first announced, also said he would like to continue considering the possibility of a JEDZ. He said the city has plans to move forward with CEDA discussions, regardless of where the JEDZ stands.

"I'm hopeful that we'll maintain the good relationship with the township," he said, "and that we'll be able to examine this situation a little more and see if (the JEDZ) actually works for the township and the city the way we think it did."

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