Pickerington Times-Sun

Temperature rising on proposed annexation debate


The city of Pickerington's efforts to facilitate a voluntary pre-annexation agreement with private property owners near Pickerington High School North are moving forward, however, some area education professionals said they have serious misgivings about the plan and Violet Township is ready to fight it.

Pickerington City Council Nov. 19 heard the second reading of an ordinance that would allow Donald and Carmella Smith to move forward with plans to annex their 39.73-acre property on the southeast corner of Pickerington Road and Refugee Road into the city.

The ordinance would also allow Kelly Sanders to potentially annex about 1 acre on Pickerington Road into the city.

Both property owners have expressed a desire to obtain municipal services and zoning offered by the city in order to support potential development at those locations.

The properties are considered by city officials to be located in the next commercially viable development corridor in the Pickerington area heading east.

Pickerington Education Association President Carla Fultz appeared before City Council Nov. 19 to express concerns about ramifications an annexation would have on the employees of the Pickerington Local School District. The PEA is the union that represents teachers in the district.

As part of the annexation proposal, Pickerington High School North would be located within the Pickerington city limits and thus its employees would be subject to the city's 1-percent income tax rate, a prospect that Fultz deems unfair to the 290 employees that would be affected.

City Manager Bill Vance said the tax would generate around $200,000 in annual income to the city.

"(Our) employees work in Pickerington, we shop and we buy gas in Pickerington," she said.

"We do not see where we're getting anything out of this," she said.

Fultz said if Pickerington North is annexed it would also be required to pay storm water fees ranging from $35,000 to $50,000 per year.

"In our world that equates to a teacher's (salary) every year," said Fultz, adding her organization was blindsided by the city's plans.

"We had no idea this was going on," Fultz said.

"We didn't know about your plans. The stakeholders are not involved.

"I try not to do business like that," Fultz said.

Mayor Lee Gray said city officials did, in fact meet, with PLSD Superintendent Randy Walker as well as with members of the district's school board to discuss the pre-annexation agreement.

"They don't represent my folks," Fultz said of the district's administration.

Gray told Fultz property rights mandate property owners have a choice about what they can do with their land.

"They want to be part of the city of Pickerington," Gray said.

Pickerington resident Patricia Kuhn-Morgan, an employee of the school district, warned against the kind of "irresponsible development" that years ago led to "half of our student population in (portable classroom) trailers."

She said potential development in the area and the traffic it would generate could negatively impact the safety of students near Pickerington High School North.

"Let's develop within our current boundaries," Kuhn-Morgan said.

Pickerington School Board Member Lisa Reade said the school district should be precluded from paying storm water fees to the city if the annexation eventually is approved.

"Instead of (pouring) money down the drain, put it into classrooms," Reade said.

"I want to work with council to make it happen," she said.

Vance said charging storm water fees would be appropriate. He stated runoff from Pickerington North's campus "makes its way into the city's watershed -- there is a cost associated with that."

City resident Carol Carter said the concerns really come down to the possibility of "a big box store" coming to the intersection of Refugee Road and Pickerington Road.

"It's going to eventually happen," Carter said. "It's a matter of time.

"If the city is doing it, the city has got to make sure the roads are done right," Carter said.

City Council voted 4-1 to move the annexation legislation forward to a third reading.

Councilman Tony Barletta provided the sole vote against it, as he did at the first reading Nov. 5.

"This is the first bite of an elephant I'm not ready to eat," Barletta said.

He said city resources are already stretched thin with major projects such as the state Route 256 Safety Project and Refugee Road widening project "in the next two or three years."

City Manager Bill Vance said if the ordinance is approved Dec. 3, the next step in process would be the creation of an "annexation petition," which is a legal description and map of the properties proposed for annexation.

Violet Township Trustee Gary Weltlich said Violet Township is vehemently opposed to any annexation of the Smith and Sanders properties into Pickerington.

The Violet Township Board of Trustees voted 3-0 to officially oppose the annexation at its November 20 meeting.

"We are going to take all means necessary at our disposal to oppose it," Weltlich said.

"We are going to fight it."