Despite a projected multi-billion dollar shortfall in the Ohio budget, Pickerington and Violet Township officials said last week they expect to weather the economic storm -- at least this year.

Despite a projected multi-billion dollar shortfall in the Ohio budget, Pickerington and Violet Township officials said last week they expect to weather the economic storm -- at least this year.

There was much doom and gloom forecast on the horizon by Fairfield County's state legislators during a March 19 Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon, including accusations against Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland for failing to properly plan to balance the state budget or fund public schools.

Local officials, however, were more upbeat about their governments' abilities to pay bills and provide services through 2009.

The projections came as Pickerington Mayor Mitch O'Brien, Violet Township trustees' chairman Harry Myers, state Rep. Gerald Stebelton (R-Lancaster) and state Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) updated members of the local business community on the state of their respective governments.

Among the optimists, Myers said construction on the $35-million Diley Ridge Medical Campus in Canal Winchester will reap benefits for Violet Township by bringing new jobs into the area and providing better medical services to residents. The joint venture between Mount Carmel Health System and Fairfield Medical Center came together, in part, through partnerships among Canal Winchester, Violet Township and Fairfield County. It is expected to yield a full-service, 24-hour emergency center near U.S. 33 and Diley Road, as well as at least 70,000 square feet in development.

Myers said a new, as-yet-unnamed partner is considering joining the project and further expanding the facility by 15,000 square feet, which should reap more financial and public health benefits for the area.

Piggybacking on that development, Myers said, was the township's recent decision to establish a township port authority.

Port authorities typically are managed by a board of directors and serve as political subdivisions that can aid jurisdictions in asset management. They can spur economic development because they enjoy tax-exempt status. As such, they can issue financial bonds and notes or own property without having to pay taxes on them.

"The port authority was established primarily for economic development," he said.

Additionally, Myers said, the township this year could see the construction of a fenced-in dog park.

"We got an architect firm to get a concept design of what a dog park could be," he said. "(Local residents) are raising money, they're dedicated to the cause, and I'm telling you folks, it's going to happen.

"You know, if the people want it, it's great."

Myers said the dog park project could be bolstered by a grant the township is seeking from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Likewise, he said, the Violet Township Fire Department has applied for $4-million in federal stimulus money to construct what he called a needed fourth fire station.

"I don't really think they're going to give it to us, but we won't know unless we ask," he said.

As for Pickerington, O'Brien said despite the recession, the sky hasn't fallen.

"The state of Pickerington is better than what you might have heard or what you expect to hear," he said. "Our finances are pretty stable right now."

O'Brien said the city this year may conduct a survey to gauge how residents rank its services, what improvements they want and if they'd be willing to pay more for new or expanded services. He also touted the hospital project, saying it likely will lead to professional office development within the city in the Diley Road corridor.

"It just spreads like wildfire," he said. "We have our retail corridor up north, and we don't want to draw it down south."

Although the local housing market has cooled, O'Brien said Pickerington likely will see the construction of 100 homes in 2009. He said projects to build a new 86-suite assisted-living facility and Walgreens in the city remain on track.

Stebelton's and Schaffer's projections were less rosy. They took Strickland and his administration to task for failing to cut enough from a state budget that's facing an estimated $4-billion to $5-billion shortfall over the next two years. They also said the governor's education plan is off base because it places new expenses on districts by calling for five-day kindergarten classes and extending the school year by 20 days.

"There's a gaping hole in our ability to fund (the general revenue fund)," Stebelton said. "The budget is really testing the ability of us and we in the General Assembly of judging how this is fair."

Schaffer said the proposed state budget could only be funded through increased taxes.

He also raised objections to a plan to bring passenger train, a projected $250-million project which would cost riders about $20 one-way for each leg of a trip between Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

"The fact is, I don't think we have dense enough population in the state of Ohio to make it work without (massive) state subsidies," he said.