Pickerington Times-Sun

Refugee Road annexation

Trustees, city officials differ on motivation behind the proposal

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The city of Pickerington has officially filed a "Petition for Annexation" for 195.28 acres located in Violet Township, paving the way for what the city hopes is the eventual commercial development of the east Refugee Road corridor.

However, Violet Township officials remain vehemently opposed and have now publicly voiced the reasons.

March 20, the city's petition was filed with the Fairfield County Commissioners, who must approve the document before annexation can move forward.

A hearing for the proposed annexation is set for 11 a.m. June 17 before the Fairfield County Board of Commissioners.

The hearing will be held in the Fairfield County Developmental Disabilities Regional Office at 7140 Reynoldsburg-Baltimore Road, Pickerington.

The city's annexation efforts originate with nearly 36 acres on the southeast corner of Pickerington Road and Refugee Road. The combined parcels are otherwise known as the Smith/Sanders properties.

That acreage is expanded to 195.28 acres in the city's recent annexation petition because the document also includes the Pickerington High School North campus and the South Central Power substation property.

Pickerington Mayor Lee Gray said the city has no choice but to seek annexation of those additional properties because of Ohio law governing contiguous land in municipal annexations.

"In order for a city to annex land, it must be contiguous, so additional property (Pickerington High School North and the South Central substation) had to be added to get to the city's boundary at Sycamore Creek Church and meet these requirements," Gray said.

The Violet Township Trustees voted 3-0 March 19 to authorize its legal counsel -- the law firm Newhouse, Prophater, Lechter and Moots LLC -- to hire experts for annexation-related issues in order to prepare for possible future litigation against the city.

Township officials question the city's motivations behind the annexation.

"(The annexation) is not really about the desire to help a family who own only 35 acres of the 195 acres that the city is trying to annex," said Harry Myers Jr., chairman of the Violet Township Board of Trustees.

"It's about the city and its desires," Myers said.

He said the city wants to "annex Pickerington North High School into the city so it can levy the city's (1-percent) income tax on the school teachers and other employees."

"We are hopeful the County Commissioners realize what this annexation is -- a tax grab by the city of Pickerington," Myers said.

"In this case, the targeted properties -- those of the high school and the family -- already have available to them all essential services through (Fairfield) County and the township," Myers said.

Gray said it boils down to property rights, stating the Smith/Sanders families want to voluntarily leverage the expertise of the city's development staff to market their property to commercial interests.

"I don't know what a 'tax grab' is, but if it means we're trying to create economic development to benefit the community, then that's what it is," Gray said.

He also said there are misconceptions about the income tax issue.

"Pickerington does have a 1-percent income tax that would apply, but a majority of the people working in the annexed area will not be impacted," Gray said.

"This is because many currently live in the city of Pickerington and are already paying the income tax and many others live in other cities that give them a credit on their taxes if they pay an income tax somewhere else," Gray said.

The next procedural move for Pickerington is to create a "Service Ordinance" that will identify what city services would be made available to the properties proposed for annexation, according to Bill Vance, Pickerington city manager.

He said the city will be required to submit the Service Ordinance for inspection at least 20 days prior to the June 17 public hearing.

Vance said Pickerington's pending annexation activities are reflective of its successful economic development vision.

"Unfortunately, it seems that Violet Township's ongoing local government business plan is to protect the status-quo even if it means suing township residents living in Pickerington," he said, adding Violet Township also has a duty to represent "a constantly growing township population of 18,500 residents living in Pickerington."

Myers said the Violet Township Board of Trustees "has a responsibility to its residents to keep the township strong and to stand up for the interests of those who live and work in the township."

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