Reasonable concerns exist on both sides of the Riverlea annexation question, a member of Riverlea Village Council told a crowd at the Oct. 18 candidates night at Worthington's McConnell Arts Center.

Reasonable concerns exist on both sides of the Riverlea annexation question, a member of Riverlea Village Council told a crowd at the Oct. 18 candidates night at Worthington’s McConnell Arts Center.

Though he was billed as a presenter on the “yes” side of the annexation issue, Eric MacGilvray said his intention was to inform, not persuade.

Riverlea Mayor Mary Jo Cusack, however, presented strong reasons to maintain Riverlea as an independent village.

She fears the multifamily housing on North High Street within the village might become commercial under city rule, she said, and warned of the high cost of assessments on Riverlea residents when it comes time to fix streets.

“I love Worthington, but we already have a wonderful community,” Cusack said.

Both Riverlea and Worthington voters will face the issue on Nov. 8, though early voting began Oct. 4. Both municipalities’ voters must approve before Riverlea could become part of Worthington.

Riverlea is a village with 236 housing units and a population of about 545 people. It is along Worthington’s southwest quadrant, bordered by the Olentangy River on the west and by the city of Worthington on the north, east and south.

The median home value is $218,500, compared to Worthington’s median value of $199,333.

The median household income is $100,453, compared to Worthington’s $75,434.

The annexation was initiated by a few Riverlea residents who had gathered enough signatures to put in motion the annexation process.

The petitioners did not express a single reason for desiring to become part of Worthington. In interviews, they mentioned the upcoming high cost of infrastructure improvements, dissatisfaction with zoning practices and decisions, and the desire to become part of a professionally operated municipality.

Cusack disputed the often-repeated chorus that Riverlea is run by volunteers. In fact, the village council comprises professionals with advanced degrees and much experience, she said.

“We have never had a problem getting qualified people to get the job done,” she said.

Councils from both Worthington and Riverlea last spring appointed three commissioners apiece who then held a series of meetings to draw up conditions of annexation. That was the requirement of a state law that, according to Worthington law director Mike Minister, has been on the books since the 1930s but has never been used.

The conditions, which have been sent to each resident of Worthington and Riverlea, cover issues from zoning and signage to how the cost of infrastructure improvements would be divided.

Worthington would cover the cost of sanitary sewer improvements, estimated at $650,000, but would assess Riverlea residents when it comes time to replace streets. Riverlea streets have not been maintained to Worthington standards and would have to be replaced completely before 2018.

The work would cost about $2 million. The city would pay $100,000, as required by state law, and the rest would be paid by Riverlea residents.

Having that size of an assessment hanging over the houses would make them hard to sell, Cusack said.

The cost of daily operations in the village would be about the same as the revenue generated, according to figures from the city of Worthington.

An unknown is the amount of income-tax revenue that would be collected from Riverlea residents should the village become part of Worthington.

Currently, Riverlea does not have an income tax. Residents pay income tax to the community in which they work.

Most of them probably already pay 2.5 percent, which is the rate in Columbus, Worthington and several other areas. Those who work in an area with a lesser rate would pay more, and those who work at home would see their income-tax rate increased from nothing to 2.5 percent.

The city estimates income-tax revenues would increase by $75,000 a year, but MacGilvray said he believes the figure would be substantially higher.

“That is the $64,000 question,” he said. “There is no way to know.”

Overall, annexation would have more of an effect on Riverlea than on Worthington, he said.

In Worthington, the costs would be frontloaded, with the benefits backloaded, he said, pointing out that Worthington would bring an affluent neighborhood into its fold if Riverlea were annexed.

Cusack agreed but said she doesn’t want the beautiful village to become part of Worthington.

“It couldn’t get any better by annexing to Worthington,” she said.