Leaders for Violet Township and the city of Pickerington touted intergovernmental collaborations enhancing the community, and sang the praises of continued infrastructure investments and economic development during a recent State of the City and Township address.

The Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual address March 15 at Zion Church.

During the address, both Violet Township trustee Terry Dunlap and Pickerington Mayor Lee Gray said their governments have brought forth improvements to local infrastructure and bases both respectively and collaboratively.

Dunlap, a township trustee since 1994, kicked off the event by noting there now are approximately 20,000 people living in Violet Township, making it the 17th largest in the state.

"Our total tax valuation for the entire township is $1.28 billion-plus," Dunlap said.

"We're the largest single tax base in Fairfield County, and that includes Lancaster."

Dunlap also hailed the work of township Engineer Greg Butcher in helping to secure more than $1 million in federal grants to install sidewalks surrounding several local schools.

He said the Pickerington Local School District and city of Pickerington have partnered in the project, and the three entities collectively bid close to $3 million in road paving projects for 2018.

"We have a program called Safe Routes to Schools," Dunlap said. "We were able to get $1.428 million -- 100 percent federal funded -- no local match.

"As a result, we've been able to construct a little over three miles of new sidewalks in school areas around Fairfield Elementary, Violet Elementary, Harmon Middle School and Pickerington Elementary," he said.

"This is a cooperative project between the schools, the city and the township and it's been very, very good for us."

This year Dunlap said a major project will be ready to open in a new, $5 million fire station in Olde Pickerington Village.

"We will move into a new Fire Station 591," he said. "We'll have more information on that as we get close to it."

Additionally, Dunlap said economic development continues to be a focus of the township. He noted Holly Mattei was hired to lead the township's efforts in that regard, and the city continues to recruit businesses to the community.

"We'll continue to work to make a U.S. 33-to-I-70 connector," Dunlap said. "It's a public access. We're limited.

"It (also) will provide outstanding opportunities for economic development if we get that connector on the east side community."

As for Gray, he noted the city now is up to 88 full-time employees, which includes 30 police officers. He said three officers were added to the force in 2017.

In addition to maintaining public safety, he said Pickerington increased its tax collections last year.

"We had 12-percent increase in tax collections in 2017," Gray said.

"Some of that's because of the economy, some of that's because the additional businesses and people and some of that's because of the exceptional job our in-house tax department does."

In addition to entering a fourth consecutive year in which the city is investing at least $1 million in street paving, Gray said the city has increased business retention efforts.

The latter initiative helped the city keep R.G. Barry from relocating headquarters outside Pickerington, he said.

"We were able to act quickly on this, and R.G. Barry signed an agreement to stay here an additional 15 years and actually add new jobs," Gray said.

Gray said the city's largest project this year likely will be the widening of Refugee Road. About $10 million of the approximately $13.5 million project will be funded through outside grants.

"(Ohio Department of Transportation) roadway construction is expected to begin late-summer, early-fall 2018 and last through 2019," he said.

Gray noted the project involved cooperation from the Pickerington school board, which approved a 30-year, tax-increment financing deal proposed by the city to finance some of the improvements, as well as paving collaboration with Violet Township.

He said he's eager to see how a planned roundabout will enhance Refugee Road traffic flow.

"They do say that it moves traffic faster and is safer," Gray said. "That was part of the safety grant we received for that project."

As the city looks forward, Gray said it continues to receive interest from developers seeking to provide senior citizen housing along Diley Road.

He rejected criticism of the Volunteers of America plans to build a store in the Brookview Shopping Center.

"Volunteers of America is making a substantial investment in our community," Gray said.

"I don't know if it's the exact number, but I think they spent close to $800,000 on this ground.

"So my thoughts are, if somebody else wanted to buy that ground for $800,000 and put their retail establishment there, they could have.

"But here's the thing," Gray added. "They're building a 22,000-square-foot building. This is an unbelievable positive. It shows that our community is a giving community. These folks want to be part of it."

Lastly, Gray hailed the city's continued ability to operate and grow without raising local taxes.

"In the past five years, there's been around $265 million in new investment in community," he said. "There's been no tax increase since 2000.

"So the city of Pickerington continues to work on what we already have. We're one of the few communities in central Ohio that still operates on 1 percent (income tax)."