The most-recent public information session to discuss a proposed Violet Township community center brought questions about how the levy would be communicated to voters and concerns from some about the costs it would bring.

On Feb. 27, Violet Township officials held a meeting in Pickerington High School North to update residents about the community-center project.

Topics included bringing residents up to speed on recent actions to formalize how the township would accept donated land to house the center, as well as the fees members would pay to use the facility.

John Eisel, the township's director of operations, started the meeting, saying it was designed to inform residents about plans for the center, as well as the 25-year, 4.6-mill levy that will be on the May 7 ballot and would serve as the funding mechanism for the project.

"There are people who are for this, and there are people that are against it," Eisel said. "The decision to move this project forward is your decision as a community -- not ours.

"That will be made at the ballot box," he said. "Tonight is really not designed to debate the merits."

When the floor was opened to questions, however, some residents voiced concerns about the financial strains the levy would put on them and other people in the community.

According to township officials, the levy would cost homeowners about $161 annually per $100,000 of "total appraised value" of their land and residences as determined by the Fairfield County Auditor's Office.

Information on the township's economic-development website, investwithviolet.com, states the median home value in Violet Township is $200,800. The annual tax costs for the community center on a residence valued at that amount would be $323.29.

"In the last 11 years, I've gotten one $100 increase in my income, and I'm living comfortably," said Larry Turner.

"I don't think you understand the impact it's going to have on your parents, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles that are on fixed incomes."

Christine Schafrath agreed, saying she'd prefer if the project were set up to be more self-sustaining through membership fees or other revenue, as opposed to placing what she believed was a significant tax burden on residents.

"I would love to see a way that we would make things work in a way that would cost less to the taxpayer, because this millage is very challenging for a family," she said.

Rockmill Financial Consulting LLC managing partner David Conley countered by saying he and township officials believe the Violet Township tax base, which includes all Pickerington property owners, would continue to grow over the course of the 25-year levy.

If that occurs, he said, the initial millage assessed to property owners could go down.

Conley said future township leaders could move to eliminate the levy before 25 years if the tax base grows and revenues allow for the community center to be paid off early.

When Turner asked if millage also could go up if the area were hit by a recession, Conley said that would occur if there were a "serious recession," but he didn't think it was likely.

"It's most likely that going forward, the tax base will be bigger," Conley said. "We don't have any concerns that that's going to be a risk factor."

Another resident who raised concerns was William Hawbecker Jr., who questioned whether residents of Violet Township and Pickerington would vote. The result, he said, could be a relatively small number of voters approving the levy and imposing more taxes on everyone in the community.

To boost voter turnout, he asked township officials to notify every Violet Township and Pickerington resident in writing about the levy.

"We're doing this on a May ballot (when) you all know that historically there are low (voter) turnouts.

"There's a lot of confusion in the community as to whether the levy will apply to them. Why not send them something official from the township?"

Eisel said the township doesn't typically send notices to every voter in the community when levies or bonds are on the ballot, but he would take the suggestion to the Violet Township trustees.

He said the township has sought to inform voters through such events as public meetings and information sent to residents and added that the levy has received attention from local media.

Resident Kevin Kemper countered Hawbecker's suggestion by saying, "It's the citizens' responsibility to keep informed."

If voters approve the levy, the community center will be built on 30 acres to be donated by the Ricketts family at the southeast corner of Pickerington and Refugee roads.

Conceptual plans call for a 95,000-square-foot facility that would include two gymnasiums, a welcome desk, staff offices, a child-care area for parents who are using the facility, three multipurpose rooms and a study or "quiet" area on its first floor.

Those designs also show a competition swimming pool and a leisure pool, as well as separate locker rooms for men and women, a universal family changing room and a "team" room on the first floor.

The second floor, as proposed, would feature a 0.1-mile track. Inside the track would be a fitness space, two exercise classrooms, a "messy arts and crafts room" and the facility's mechanical equipment.

The levy is expected to generate approximately $5.31 million annually.

Of that annual amount, about $3.1 million would be applied toward paying off the building in 25 years, $2 million would be used for operations.

About $210,000 generated by the levy per year could be used for maintenance and replacement of equipment.

Additionally, Violet Township and Pickerington residents would pay $75 for an annual membership.

Those prices would rise to $128 for a family of two, $169 for a family of three and $195 for a family of four or more.

Military veterans living in the community would receive a 10 percent discount on annual fees, and senior citizens 65 years old and older would not be required to pay a membership fee.

Township development director Holly Mattei said those fees, at least in the first year, should generate about $1 million to offset community-center operational costs.

Township officials have said they put the levy before voters because a 2016 community survey showed 67 percent of respondents strongly agreed a facility is needed, and 24 percent agreed a community center is needed.

Mattei said that in addition to providing a desired amenity, the community center could serve as an anchor for the development of surrounding housing, restaurants, retail businesses and professional offices.

"There are a number of studies that indicate that quality of life is huge in the attraction and retention of workforce," she said.

"And workforce is the No. 1 issue in attracting economic development.

"Having a community center is a very, very good thing in order to promote economic development in a community."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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