As the May 7 primary election nears, groups that support and oppose Issue 2, the Violet Township tax issue that would pay for construction and operation of a community center, are busy spreading their messages.
Residents in Pickerington, Violet Township and a portion of Canal Winchester that lies within Violet Township boundaries will vote on Issue 2, a 4.6-mill, 25-year levy that would provide funding to build and operate a $46 million Violet Township community center.
If passed, Issue 2 would cost homeowners about $161 annually per $100,000 of appraised property 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, said the median home value in Violet Township is $200,800. Thus, the annual tax cost of Issue 2 for median-value homeowners would be $323.29, or approximately $26.95 per month.
That's too expensive, according to Citizens For Responsible Government, a political-action group that has formed in opposition to Issue 2. The group has a website at citizensforresponsiblegov.com and a Facebook page.
According to Pickerington City Councilman Mike Sabatino, treasurer for Citizens For Responsible Government, the PAC has "hundreds" of supporters on Facebook and has distributed about 450 "vote no" yard signs.
"We have a core group of concerned people who don't want to see this crazy thing happen," Sabatino said.
Sabatino said the 2016 survey Violet Township officials cite as a motivation for Issue 2 – which found that 73 percent of respondents were either "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to vote for a levy to support a community center – was based on residents' willingness to pay $6 per $100,000 home valuation per month.
That amount equates to 2 mills utilizing the current tax evaluation, according to Violet Township Development Director Holly Mattei.
Sabatino noted the 4.6 mills the township seeks through Issue 2 is more than twice as expensive as what residents considered in 2016.
He added Issue 2 ballot language calls it a "parks and recreation levy," and said that raises questions as to what all levy revenues could be used for.
"The current (township) trustees can say whatever they want, and the current trustees can be out within one election cycle," Sabatino said. "You can't really do a 'trust me' over a 25-year levy."
Mattei countered by saying, "The purpose of this levy is to construct and operate a community center for the 25-year period of the levy."
Mattei said if there are any excess funds from the levy, they could be used to repay the project's debt faster, to reduce the tax rate or for any parks and recreational purpose.
"It is important to note that these funds cannot be used to support any other operations of the township outside of the parks and recreation scope."
On the "pro" side of the issue is Citizens For a Better Violet, which also is an officially registered PAC. It maintains a presence on Facebook and on Twitter at @4aBetterViolet.
Its members include Shawn and Melisa Hatem, who have two daughters ages 3 and 7 and have lived in Violet Township close to five years.
The Hatems said they support Issue 2 because they currently travel to Westerville for the girls' swimming lessons, Gahanna for outdoor swims in the summer and Thornville for gymnastics.
They noted that in addition to the cost of gas to travel to those places, they often spend more money to dine before or after recreation activities.
If Violet Township had a community center, local individuals and families wouldn't have to travel for recreation, they said, and they'd spend more money locally at restaurants and other businesses.
Additionally, they said they believe a local center would increase property values in nearby areas, provide a venue for group meetings and events such as birthday parties, enhance a sense of community and reduce youth crime.
"There's no doubt that we're lacking facilities here," Shawn Hatem said. "Anybody who says, 'There's something here,' there's certainly not."
Melisa Hatem agreed with Sabatino, who called the community center a "want," as opposed to a "need."
But she said the community center represents "a win for everybody."
"For kids, there's not much here you can do when it's raining or it's cold, and that's like half of the year," Melisa Hatem said. "That's even the case for adults."
The Hatems said Issue 2 would raise their property taxes by about $20 a month. After adding a $195 annual membership for a family of four, the community center project would increase their monthly costs by roughly $37.
"If the property tax is your only consideration, then yeah, vote 'no,' " Shawn Hatem said.
"But for young adults, young families and even seniors, there's so much more to this.
"The benefit is so much more. For everyone else, I would encourage them to look at all the benefits it will bring you and vote 'yes.' "
If Issue 2 passes, 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. It would be built on 30 acres of donated land at the southeast corner of Pickerington and Refugee roads.
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.
Sabatino said the plan is too expensive, and questioned the projected $1.74 million payroll for community center staff.
He said he believes only a small percentage of the community will use the community center, but that all property owners will have to fund it.
"A community center does not have to cost 4.6 mills for 25 years," Sabatino said. "If a different concept plan was done that was more affordable ... I think it would have a broader appeal base.
"When this fails and they try to do it again, it would make sense to have an eye toward affordability, and it would also make sense to look at a location that's more centrally located so you don't have so much infrastructure costs."
Mattei has said the community center is being sought because the 2016 survey indicated people want a local, indoor recreation facility.
She also said township officials believe the project will attract economic development to the area, which could fund needed infrastructure in the future.
As for the sewer-line extension and roadway improvements the community center will require, Mattei said Issue 2 will provide funds for them.
"The proposed cost for the community center includes $4 million for roadway and utility improvements necessary to provide access, water and sewer to the facility," Mattei said.
"The project package includes up to $4 million for roadway and utility infrastructure improvements necessary to construct and operate a community center."