Police training, economic development stressed in Pickerington's State of the City address

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
OhioHealth's planned expansion on 30 acres of its site at 1010 Refugee Road was pointed to as a positive 2021 development during the Pickerington State of the City address. According to Mayor Lee Gray, the project will bring an oncology department to the OhioHealth Pickerington Medical Campus, as well as specialized services for women's health.

Pickerington city officials emphasized 2021 plans for police training, economic development and infrastructure during a virtual State of the City address comprising seven different videos.

Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Lee Gray departed from the tradition of delivering his annual State of the City address at one of the Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce's spring luncheons.

Instead, the city posted seven State of the City videos to its Facebook page between April 18 and 24. Totaling nearly 18 minutes, the videos revisited the city's $1.5 million investment in road paving in 2020 and looked ahead at several initiatives and projects going on this year.

In addition to last year's road maintenance, a theme of the address was a role the city's police force plays.

At approximately $7.4 million, the Pickerington Police Department takes up the largest portion of the city's roughly $13.1 million general operating budget. That money funds salaries and benefits for department personnel, including 33 police officers and nine dispatchers. Chief Tod Cheney noted that Gray, City Manager Greg Butcher and Pickerington City Council have placed a high importance on police training.

According to the city's finance department, Pickerington will spend $55,000 on police and dispatcher training this year.

Cheney said 2021 training will run the gamut, from awareness of human trafficking and crisis intervention to "unarmed defensive tactics and use-of-force policy review" and crowd management.

In addition to workshops on firearms shooting, there will be sessions on combat casualty care and updates on harassment and discrimination, among other topics.

"The main thing that sets us apart, I think, is our training," Cheney said. "We use that money to send our officers to at least two to three advanced training schools a year."

The police department’s 911 call center also is receiving a $135,902 upgrade to its communications system.

"In 2019 and 2020, the department’s reporting and computer-aided dispatch system was upgraded; included in this was hardware and software updates, monitors, etc.," Cheney said. "In 2021, the 911 Next Generation system is being installed that includes more pinpoint 911 call location and 'Text to 911' capability, along with updated telephone technology."

While police and safety are a big part of the city's budget expenditures in 2021, city officials hope expansion projects by OhioHealth and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center will provide better access to healthcare in the community and generate tax revenue for city coffers.

Gray noted that OhioHealth is developing plans to add on to its Pickerington Medical Campus at 1010 Refugee Road. The project is expected to take place on 30 acres on the campus, bringing more inpatient beds and specialized services.

"They're adding a hospital," Gray said. "It will have an oncology department, it will focus on women's health and they're going to have a labor-and-delivery department."

Gray said construction of OSU Wexner Medical Center's outpatient-care facility at 1025 Refugee Road is underway.

"It's 12,000 square feet on an existing building that will offer services related to imaging and primary care and should be open by the end of May," he said.

In addition, Economic Development Director Dave Gulden said the city is continuing to seek projects for undeveloped and unused parcels within Olde Pickerington Village and is in the process of further developing citywide land-use policies.

"We're going to look ahead another 10 or 20 years for general land-use and development guidelines," Gulden said. "Our plan will be a flexible framework and (will) really develop commercial and residential preferences for the area.

"We're going to expand our corporate tax base, increase our mixed-use infill - which would be our Olde Village – (increase) mixed-use growth outside the village and also preserve greenspace."

In touting the city's financial strength, Gray said Pickeriington’s $11.8 million cash balance would enable the city to borrow money at lower rates in the future. He said water and sewer rates haven’t been increased since 2013.

Butcher said the city is continuing to work with the Ohio Department of Transportation to increase access to and from Pickerignton and both U.S. Route 33 and Interstate 70.

One project being eyed is the construction of an interchange at Route 33 and Pickerington Road.

ODOT District 5 Planning Engineer Ty Thompson said the construction timeframe depends on available funding for rights of way and construction phases.

"If funding is available, then the earliest that the project would start is the 2024 construction season," Thompson said. "The project is a multiyear project and is estimated to have a timeframe of two to three construction seasons.

"The estimated cost of the project is $50 million, inclusive of right-of-way and construction costs. The cost estimate will be refined as the project is developed further," he said.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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