Advisory group investigating tax increase to support new Hilliard community center

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group

The Hilliard Recreation and Parks Advisory Committee has scheduled a series of meetings about whether residents will be asked to approve a 0.5-percentage-point income-tax increase Nov. 2 in order to build a new community center.  

City Manager Michelle Crandall said the committee met for orientation March 10 and has other sessions scheduled April 14, May 12 and June 9. 

Previous story:Hilliard could pitch income-tax-rate hike to boost recreation department

“It’s not a small project in this amount of time,” she said.

The 10-member committee, chosen by Hilliard City Council, includes Kurt Schooley and Melinda Dennis as three-year members; Michael Lentz and Brian Gara as two-year-members; and Jane Rice and Christopher Kobs, a Hilliard Darby High School sophomore who plays soccer, baseball and hockey, as one-year members. 

Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department director Ed Merritt stands outside the Hilliard Community Center on Dec. 18 with program manager Beth Simon (left), recreation aide Lindsey Dembowski, recreation supervisor Geoff Dew, recreation supervisor Amy Van Huffel, recreation supervisor Haley Bush, recreation supervisor Kristan Turner, program manager Megan Goudy and recreation supervisor Darcy Baxter. A feasibility study is being conducted to gauge interest for a new community center; the current facility was built in the mid-1970s.

Hilliard City Schools Deputy Superintendent Mike McDonough and Linda Ulrey, a member of Destination Hilliard's board of directors are also serving one-year terms. 

City Council members Les Carrier and Andy Teater also are members of the committee. 

“I look at my role not as the driver but as a conduit between council and the committee,” Teater said. 

The committee’s work goes beyond analyzing survey results and making recommendations about a new community center, said David Ball, director of communications for Hilliard. 

“The committee will provide recommendations and advice on a variety of topics, including development of existing parkland; recreational facilities; trails and bikeways; health, wellness and recreational programming; and updates to strategic plans,” he said. 

But Ball said major topics to be considered in 2021 include results from a community-center feasibility study and the future development of athletics fields and other parks amenities on the Jerman property west of and adjacent to Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park. 

The feasibility study, performed by Ballard*King, cost $34,000, while a community survey, administered by ETC Institute, cost $14,500, Ball said. 

He said the survey was mailed to 1,500 random households within Hilliard city limits in January. 

Ballard*King already has received the minimum 300 responses the city required and is beginning to compile the results, Ball said. A report is expected to be presented to the advisory committee and City Council in April, he said. 

If an income-tax levy for a community center is advanced and approved by voters, it would raise Hilliard’s income tax from 2% to 2.5%. 

Legislation to place the issue on the November ballot could receive a first reading at City Council’s June 28 meeting and a second and final reading July 12, Crandall said. 

The deadline for filing a petition to direct the Franklin County Board of Elections to place the levy on the Nov. 2 ballot is Aug. 4. 

If City Council approves the measure, a steering committee would be named in June to campaign for it, Crandall said. 

“It’s a tight timeframe, but we think it’s doable,” she said. 

The steering committee would be autonomous and would be similar to organizations that garner support for school district operating levies, Ball said. 

If approved, the 0.5 percentage-point income-tax increase would generate about $7.5 million annually, according to city finance director David Delande. 

Though Hilliard has a 2% income tax, many residents work in other cities with 2.5% rates and would not be affected by this possible increase, said Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department Director Ed Merritt. 

He said the city has many site options for a new community center, including renovating or rebuilding facilities in Municipal Park or building new facilities elsewhere, possibly at the Jerman property. 

The city purchased the land, known as the Jerman property and named for the family that owned it, for $4.41 million as part of a real-estate deal that City Council approved in November 2020. 

The current community center and the Phyllis A. Ernst Senior Center were built in the early 1970s and connected via an expansion project in the 1990s, Merritt said. 

The Hilliard Family Aquatic Center, formerly called the West Pool, opened in the mid-1970s and has also been expanded and upgraded. 

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo