A change in leadership and budget challenges in the face of a national economic downturn, coupled with two sizable infrastructure projects, highlighted the city of Pickerington's 2008.

A change in leadership and budget challenges in the face of a national economic downturn, coupled with two sizable infrastructure projects, highlighted the city of Pickerington's 2008.

The year that was 2008 started out in transition for Pickerington, as it saw Judy Gilleland, city manager for the previous three and a half years, resign Jan. 4 to become Middletown, Ohio's, city manager.

A replacement was found internally, as Tim Hansley, the city's economic development director since July 2006, was appointed by Pickerington City Council as interim city manager following Gilleland's departure.

In April, Hansley assumed the city manager's full-time duties. By that time, he and fellow city officials were faced with fiscal restraints that forced a citywide hiring freeze, so his economic development director's post wasn't filled.

Also by that time, the city had embarked on an infrastructure project city officials hoped would improve local traffic flow and have a significant impact on development in the city. After nearly a decade of preliminary work, including a $500,000 contribution from the federal government, the widening of Diley Road from state Route 256 to Busey Road was initiated in February.

The $13.1-million project, slated for completion this summer, will link to an earlier widening project from the Canal Winchester border at Busey Road south to U.S. Route 33.

"It will make a nice access for people to go from Route 256 to U.S. Route 33," said Ed Drobina, Pickerington's service manager. "It's an exciting project."

The roadway wasn't the only portion of Pickerington infrastructure to be enhanced in 2008. Dwindling revenues tied city officials' hands in many respects, but the user fees allowed them to initiate the expansion of the city's wastewater treatment plant.

The project, which began last summer and was estimated at more than $750,000, was designed to increase Pickerington's wastewater treatment capacity from 1.6-million gallons a day, to 3.2-million gallons a day. It also was expected to make the city more attractive to prospective developers and businesses looking to locate or expand locally.

Despite those gains and attempts to curtail city spending, Pickerington residents and municipal buildings weren't spared damage wrought by a freak windstorm in September.

The storm, which local meteorologists said resulted from the inland aftermath of Hurricane Ike, brought 75-mile winds through the city and forced a two-week clean-up of tree limbs and other debris.

Still, the storm wasn't as devastating to Pickerington as other areas of central Ohio, due largely to the consistency of local trees.

"That's one good thing about the city of Pickerington," Drobina said. "It doesn't have that many large, mature trees in the subdivision. Personally, I think we fared well."

On Nov. 4, the city's budgeting plans were dealt a blow of a different type when residents rejected a proposed income tax increase by a near 2-to-1 vote.

The proposal would have raised income taxes from 1 to 2 percent for those who work but don't live in the city, as well as those who don't pay an income tax elsewhere. It was expected to generate an additional $3-million in revenue.

Having seen those dollars slip away, city council on Dec. 16 voted unanimously to join Violet Township in entering into a joint economic development district (JEDD) agreement. The agreement had been considered by city officials for nearly three years.

"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."

The agreement, which by year's end had been rejected by Bloom Township trustees but still was being considered by Canal Winchester and Lancaster officials, prohibits annexation a mile-wide business district along U.S. Route 33 from Bloom Township through Lancaster, Canal Winchester, Pickerington and Violet Township to Diley Road.

It also would allow the participating communities to share in revenue created by development in the JEDD area by assessing a 2-percent income tax.

The JEDD won't go into effect until a developer comes forward with a project. The agreement calls for 35 perent of the income tax collected to be used for infrastructure improvements within the district.

nellis@thisweeknews.com