Westerville News & Public Opinion

Joint economic development zone

Vote OK paves way for economic development, home rule


Blendon Township overcame a major hurdle in realizing its plans for the future when township voters approved a joint economic development zone with the city of Westerville and granted the township home-rule authority Nov. 6.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the joint economic development zone with Westerville.

It passed with 3,093 votes to 963 votes, or 76.3 percent to 23.7 percent, according to uncertified results from the Franklin County Board of Elections.

Voters also approved home-rule authority with an easy majority of 2,244 votes to 1,097, or 67.2 percent to 32.8 percent, according to the board of elections.

"We were so excited to see the great numbers of how both those issues passed," said Bryan Rhoads, township administrator.

"It really shows us that the residents believe in the direction that we've (been headed)," Rhoads said.

The joint economic development zone will apply Westerville's 2-percent income tax to corporate and undeveloped residential properties in Blendon Township.

A small portion of the money collected will be set aside for administrative costs, but of the rest, 70 percent will go to Blendon Township for capital improvements, and 30 percent will go to Westerville for providing economic development services.

Home-rule authority will allow the Blendon Township Board of Trustees the authority to offer business incentives and create their own water and sewer districts, among other things.

With the ballot measures passed, work remains, as the township and the city look to implement the measures.

"I would say the hardest part of it is done," Rhoads said.

"There is a series of things we need to take care of now. It's just technicalities and getting things up and running," he said.

Home-rule authority will go into effect Jan. 1, Rhoads said.

"Between now and then, we need to pass a series of resolutions getting our procedures prepared," Rhoads said.

"Then, we'll start looking at what we can implement with home rule."

Representatives from Blendon Township and Westerville met the day after the election to begin looking at the next steps in establishing the joint economic development zone.

Blendon trustees voted to appoint three representatives to the board that will oversee the joint economic development zone at their Nov. 7 meeting, Rhoads said, and Westerville City Council was expected to do the same at a meeting Tuesday, Nov. 13.

The board will have its first meeting Nov. 28 to organize, and the next few meetings of the board likely will involve passing a series of resolutions about bylaws and agreements necessary to begin tax collection in the economic zone next year, Rhoads said.

Once that is complete, Westerville and the township can start sending out literature to businesses so they can begin preparing for changes in tax collection.

Westerville needs to work to establish an income-tax agreement with the joint economic development zone board to outline how it will apply the city's income tax to businesses within the zone, said Jason Bechtold, Westerville's economic development administrator .

Council is expected to take action on that at its Dec. 4 meeting, Bechtold said.

The city's finance department also will have to take some measures relating to bookkeeping for the tax collection, Bechtold said.

"There's a lot of moving parts to this," he said.

Blendon Township already has begun working with Westerville on establishing tax-incentive programs for businesses within the township, Rhoads said.

Beyond that, Blendon officials will begin looking at improvements it can make with the estimated $2.5 million annually the joint economic development zone is expected to raise.

"I think 2013 is going to be a big planning year to work on construction documents for various projects that we want to undertake, get those shovel ready to fund," Rhoads said.

"We need to look at street sign replacements; we need to look at sidewalk replacement programs. ... Our parks need investment and improvements," he said.

"You name it ... this funding will be able to do a lot for us, especially with our roadway repairs.

"We haven't been able to invest in roadways as we would like to," Rhoads said.