Pickerington Times-Sun

City, school board at odds over OhioHealth TIF

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A proposed agreement to absolve OhioHealth of property taxes payments on its planned medical campus to the Pickerington Local School District for up to 30 years hit a snag last week amid concerns from school officials.

Almost unilaterally, city and school district officials agree OhioHealth's plans to build a medical campus and, eventually, a regional hospital near the intersection of state Route 256 and Refugee Road could yield significant benefits for the community.

In the first phase alone, OhioHealth plans to build an approximately $42 million, 150,000-square-foot medical campus that would create 200 jobs, and proposals are in place for OhioHealth to provide free sports medicine services to Pickerington school district athletes and educational programs to students at the new facilities.

As recently as last October, city and school district officials even agreed they would all benefit from a plan in which the city would initially fund the widening of Refugee Road by four or five lanes from 256 to the main OhioHealth Refugee Road entrance, and then from there three new lanes on Refugee to the city's corporation limits that abut the city of Columbus.

However, some Pickerington School Board members balked Jan. 13 at the tax-increment financing proposal whereby OhioHealth would pay an estimated $4.4 million in property taxes for up to 30 years to the city -- as opposed to the school district -- to repay the city's expenses to widen Refugee Road.

School Board President Jim Brink said he's not opposed to a TIF for the project, but believes city officials have changed some terms from what was presented to the board last October.

Specifically, Brink said he believed the city sought to include the entire north side of Refugee Road, from 256 to the Farmbrook subdivision, in the TIF district.

Instead, he said, the city has proposed the TIF encompass just the 3.065 acres where an initial OhioHealth facility would be built.

That, Brink and board member Lisa Reade said, could expose the school district to further and longer losses of property taxes if the city seeks to establish another TIF for adjacent properties in the future.

"We were told what the land involved ... and now we find out the land is different," Brink said.

"The concern is there are 62 acres just west of (OhioHealth's) property that we were told were part of the agreement," Brick said.

"Nothing in this agreement can stop the city from putting more TIFs along the rest of the property on Refugee Road," he said.

More TIFs could result in fewer property tax dollars coming to the district for years to come.

In the face of last week's objections from some school board members, Pickerington City Manager Bill Vance said the board generally agreed to the TIF when it signed off on a "term sheet" last October.

Legislation passed Aug. 16, by Pickerington City Council states that subject to Pickerington School Board approval, the city would provide a TIF on "the site of OhioHealth's initial medical office building."

Vance said the board's apparent shift is "not appropriate."

"We finalized the terms with OhioHealth and PLSD last fall," Vance said. "(It) seems that new PLSD items of negotiation interest have surfaced at this late date."

While Brink acknowledged he never had direct talks with city officials regarding the proposed TIF, he's been following the issue through "what I've read."

In addition to the proposed TIF district, he has reservations about another provision which would allow one-fifth of each OhioHealth employee's 1-percent city income taxes to be used to pay off the city's debt for widening Refugee.

The sooner the debt on the road project is paid off, the sooner the school district can collect property taxes from the OhioHealth site.

However, Brink said he wasn't aware the city's TIF proposal stipulation calling for one-fifth of OhioHealth employee income taxes to be directed to pay off city debt would not begin until at least 11 years after the TIF agreement.

Further, Brink said he opposes a clause that says the one-fifth portion of the income tax also won't be directed to the roadway debt until OhioHealth's local payroll reaches $10 million "annually," as opposed to "cumulatively."

"I had calculated that would be on the order of three years for them to reach $10 million in payroll (cumulatively)," Brink said. "That's a huge difference, potentially."

Under the current time line, the city and school board have until roughly the end of February to finalize the TIF.

According to Vance, the TIF is needed to ensure the OhioHealth project goes through. He said it's a project that offers a wealth of virtues not only to the city, but its residents and the schools.

"Having OhioHealth initiate its Pickerington development activities, that will eventually result in a regional hospital being located in Pickerington, will provide our community with better and more convenient access to the highest level of medical services being locally available to Pickerington residents," Vance said.

"From an economic development perspective, having OhioHealth successfully develop a medical campus on Refugee Road will entice additional spill-over development activities and tax-base, job-creating, investments that will create additional city, (Violet) Township (and) PLSD taxpayers to help existing city (and) township (and) PLSD taxpayers cover the costs of sustaining a second-to-none school system," he said.

"(It also will) help cover the increasing costs related to our excellent police and fire departments, improve our city park facilities enjoyed by all and enhance the ability of city (and) township to pay for future residential paving projects now in jeopardy due to diminishing, if not non-existent, paving funds."

Brink said he doesn't disagree, and added that "having OhioHealth here is good for the community."

However, the school board president added, "We're not expecting to have to wait 30 years to start collecting (property) taxes" from the project.

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