Prairie Township trustees are bracing for a rocky start to 2011 when it comes to finances. More than likely the board will approach residents next year with some sort of financial request

Prairie Township trustees are bracing for a rocky start to 2011 when it comes to finances. More than likely the board will approach residents next year with some sort of financial request

Trustee Steve Kennedy said the combination of low returns on the township's investments and continued state cutbacks to the local government fund will force the township to seek other alternatives to capture revenue.

The board of trustees proposed three different scenarios that it will explore next year in order to bring the township more revenue.

Their preferred option is to place a JEDD (Joint Economic Development District) on the ballot, which would allow residents to vote whether to require businesses in the West Broad Street Corridor to join. The JEDD is an ongoing initiative for the township, but the process has been hampered by the larger businesses, like OhioHealth Doctors Hospital, that don't see the need to join.

"This option would not be a tax increase for the residents unless they work in the West Broad Street corridor," Kennedy said. "It is a way to redirect tax money back into the township. It makes more sense to do this than to increase taxes."

If a JEDD is voted on and put in place, employees working in the JEDD would have tax dollars directed back to the township instead of following them back to the municipalities where they live.

Other financial options proposed by the board included the possibility of collecting an available 1.6 mills of inside millage. The Franklin County Budget Commission would have to approve the township's request for the millage, which is not subject to voter approval.

If approved, the township could pull in up to $470,000 annually and break even.

"That would be a 1.6-mill increase," Kennedy said. "That is not a good option for our residents at this time."

The final option is to place a levy on the ballot in order to help pay for police protection and township operating expenses. Once again, Kennedy said he believes that this is another option that he would rather avoid.

Kennedy said with the new West Broad Streetscape project in the works, funds will be needed to maintain it once it's complete. The township has also wanted to increase police protection and help to establish a new multigenerational recreation center.

"All this could happen if a JEDD is implemented," Kennedy said. "The only way this would be a new tax is if the resident physically worked in the corridor."

Kennedy said if nothing is done, there will be cuts in services that no one wants to make.

Of the $13-million in the township budget, only $8-million is money that can be spent. The rest is invested at a very low interest rate, he said.

In 2008 the township received $920,000 in local government funds that was put towards the township general fund. In 2010, that sum has dropped by more than $200,000.

The amount of return on township investments has also dramatically dropped, Kennedy said. In 2007 the township captured $357,000 on its investments; as of this week, the township has only collected $107,000 on $5-million it has invested.

Last year Kennedy predicted that trustees would have to dip into the township's rainy day fund for the next few years in order to maintain the same service level that residents expect.

"We have lost almost $400,000 a year," Kennedy said. "Something has got to happen to change this."

If nothing is done, obvious cuts to the township budget would be the senior center, zoning department and yearly road work, he said.

"We owe the residents to give them this opportunity first before we make cuts," Kennedy said.