Pickerington City Council on Dec. 16 voted to enter a regional pact that proponents maintain will spur development and tax revenues for partnering communities in northwest Fairfield County.

Pickerington City Council on Dec. 16 voted to enter a regional pact that proponents maintain will spur development and tax revenues for partnering communities in northwest Fairfield County.

Nearly three years and 10 drafts after plans to create a joint economic development district (JEDD) along U.S. Route 33 were conceived, two of the four communities which could receive income taxes from the arrangement now are in place.

Pickerington Tuesday night followed Violet Township to become the second piece of the JEDD puzzle after city council members unanimously voted to enter into the agreement. The vote occurred in a council meeting held after a public hearing on the JEDD.

"It's really the first step toward us working together," Pickerington council Vice President Jeff Fix said.

Canal Winchester and Lancaster haven't taken formal positions on an agreement committing each community to the future establishment of the Northwest Fairfield County 33 Corridor Joint Economic Development District.

All indications are Canal Winchester could be next in approving the JEDD agreement. During the joint public hearing with Pickerington City Council Tuesday, Canal Winchester Village Council members each said they support the accord because it signals regional cooperation to businesses and developers looking to locate and build within the proposed mile-wide district along U.S. 33, from Bloom Township through Lancaster, Canal Winchester, Pickerington and Violet Township to Diley Road.

A fifth potential partner -- Bloom Township -- last July nixed plans to participate in the JEDD, saying its costs to set up outweighed its potential benefits.

Pickerington and Violet Township officials moved forward with the JEDD on grounds that a 2-percent income tax to be administered within the district will generate revenues for participating communities and fund infrastructure vital to development in the area.

"Regionalism is the way to go (in the current economy)," Pickerington Councilman Mike Sabatino said. "I think it's been a long time coming.

"Do I think this is going to be the goose that lays the golden egg? No, but I believe it's going to be another tool in the toolbox."

Under terms of the proposal, the JEDD won't go into effect until a developer comes forward with a project. However, 35 percent of the income tax collected from the district must be used for infrastructure, which would include building roads and providing utilities such as water and sewer services.

"The thing that stands out to me about this is the agreement for income taxes," said Pickerington Councilman Keith Smith. "The fact is, businesses locate where they can get the utilities and support they need."

The JEDD also would prohibit annexation of land in the district by partnering municipalities, thereby protecting current boundaries.

Throughout the JEDD debate, Fairfield County officials have opposed its creation.

County economic development director Bill Arnett on Tuesday maintained that the 2-percent income tax to be required within the JEDD would dissuade business from locating there. He said those businesses instead would look to communities which abate employees' income taxes.

Additionally, Arnett said, the JEDD shouldn't be established until a business or developer interested in the area is identified. That way, he said, guidelines can be drafted which can entice a specific project.

"You don't have a project," Arnett said. "You've drafted a document without any input from a business, a property owner.

"If you think you can change it (later), then don't do anything now. Wait until a project comes along. That's how JEDDs are done in Ohio."

Pickerington council members and Violet Township trustee Gary Weltlich countered by saying the income tax provision places the burden, which they argued is moderate, on employees rather than the industries and professional office operations they're trying to attract to the district.

Those officials added the agreement to enter the JEDD will permit participating communities to establish uniform development guidelines, and potential businesses and developers will know those rules in advance of a development application or negotiations with JEDD partners.

"Now is a great opportunity to do this while there's no economic development pressures on us," Weltlich said. "This is an opportunity for us all to leave a legacy of prosperity for our future generations."

nellis@thisweeknews.com