Whitehall is striving to boost development and private-sector jobs with a payroll-tax incentive grant program.

Whitehall is striving to boost development and private-sector jobs with a payroll-tax incentive grant program.

The recently enacted policy has not yet been put to use and is a tailor-made policy meant to address the nature of Whitehall apart from its central Ohio counterparts.

Such a nature, that of being an urban, landlocked city with little or no opportunity to develop farmland or undeveloped parcels, was the chief reason Whitehall did not agree to sign a so-called "anti-job poaching" pact among more than a dozen central Ohio cities and villages.

Whitehall was not alone in opposing the initiative, first suggested by Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman as a means to curb central Ohio communities from using withholding and personal property-tax incentives to lure businesses to move from one city in central Ohio to another.

Rather, proponents of the pact desired to create an even playing field and a legally non-binding "gentleman's agreement" to not poach jobs, but rather work together to attract new jobs to central Ohio from outside the region.

For one reason or another, most cities took a "thanks but no thanks" approach. Whitehall officials thought the proposed pact would hold no benefit for Whitehall.

"We needed something that would give us the means to provide an incentive to our existing small businesses who want to grow and to a business that might choose to relocate here," Whitehall development director Zach Woodruff said.

Because it would be almost certain that a business relocating to Whitehall would remodel or expand an existing building or structure, rather than building a new structure, the traditional tax deals a community like New Albany or Dublin might offer wouldn't provide benefits at the same scale, Woodruff said.

For example, if a prospective new Whitehall employer made a $1 million improvement to an existing building, the increased property value after those improvements is not likely to equal $1 million.

Whitehall's policy is a reimbursable grant rather than a reduction in taxes, thereby allowing a business owner to realize a savings for every new dollar generated through withholding taxes for new employees.

In such an agreement, a business owner would pay withholding tax, but per the agreement, the city, at the end of the year and if requirements are met, would reimburse the owner, Woodruff said.

The first agreement is yet to be struck, but "my phone is ringing; ... there is interest," Woodruff said.

"This is another cog in the wheel ... and another tool in our toolbox" to enhance development in Whitehall, Woodruff said.

The new policy is in step with the city's goal to brand and redevelop its arterial roads and commercial districts.

Whitehall City Council members earlier this year overturned a set of five overlay districts a former development director had established that newly elected Mayor Kim Maggard had deemed too restrictive.

City officials are working toward a new set of guidelines for development on East Main Street, East Broad Street, South Hamilton Road, South Yearling Road and Poth Road.

"But these are not large parcels. ... Our goal is to find ways to equally help someone bring 100 new jobs to the city, as well as a small-business owner who might be adding five new jobs," Woodruff said.

The payroll-tax-incentive grant program proposes a maximum six-year, 50-percent reimbursable grant, but each agreement would be negotiated based upon the number of new employees and payroll, Woodruff said.