After a heated public discussion presided over by both Pickerington and Canal Winchester’s mayors and councils, all the council members declared unanimously their intent to create a joint economic development district (JEDD) with Violet Township.
In its meeting that followed, Pickerington council officially voted to join the JEDD.
The JEDD is a cooperative venture between Pickerington, Canal Winchester, Lancaster and Violet Township to develop the land one mile on either side of U.S. 33 from the Franklin County line to the edge of Carroll.
A business that develops within the JEDD would pay a 2 percent income tax, 35 percent of which would fund infrastructure improvements to the JEDD area.
The benefit for the township is that by law it cannot collect income tax, but as part of the JEDD, Lancaster, Canal Winchester and Pickerington can collect income tax and share with Violet.
The benefit to Canal Winchester, Lancaster and Pickerington is that the JEDD area lies outside their boundaries; therefore they would collect taxes from an area outside their jurisdictions. Originally Bloom Township was involved, but it since withdrew.
Pickerington Mayor Mitch O’Brien said the JEDD should demonstrate that the city is "seeking a sustainable source of income from an area" it otherwise would not have accessed.
The proposed JEDD would attract large companies who seek cooperation among local governments rather than the annexation squabbling that has been the norm in the area, Violet Township Trustee Gary Weltlich said.
"It’s cool for us all to sit in one room and nobody throws a shoe at one another," Pickerington Councilman Jeff Fix said.
"This agreement puts our money where our mouth is," Weltlich said. "Each party must put aside selfish interests. Had Toyota or another major investor expressed an interest in 500 acres along 33 a few years ago, they would have walked away. That’s why Honda opened their new plant in Indiana. If Toyota came today, we could quickly and responsively move because of this understanding."
Canal Winchester Councilman Rick Deeds said that the JEDD would provide "a consistent look down U. S. 33 of green space and building materials that will set us apart and draw more attractive businesses."
The JEDD requires money to be invested first with the payoff in the distant future.
"I am unlikely to live to see this tree bear fruit," Weltlich said. "I have no hidden agenda other than to leave a legacy for future generations."
Canal Winchester Councilman Bruce Jarvis said he supports the agreement.
"Canal Winchester does not have a whole lot to gain, but it also does not have a whole lot to lose, so in the spirit of cooperation, I support this agreement," he said.
Fairfield County officials oppose the JEDD and question why the local governments believe a large business would voluntarily develop in an area with a 2 percent tax, when it could build elsewhere with no tax.
"The tax doesn’t mean anything," county utility director Tony Vogel said. "It doesn’t provide services like the Canal tax provides. I don’t see this document creating jobs. I have yet to hear how you sell (the JEDD) to draw a business here."
Pickerington councilman Keith Smith argued income tax doesn’t always have a direct effect on development.
"If income tax determined (whether or not a business developed in an area), we wouldn’t have business in Pickerington," Smith said.
Bill Arnett, the Fairfield County Economic Developer, told the councils that the proposal is backwards of how JEDDs are supposed to work.
A large business may build anywhere, so communities compete to offer incentives for that business to move into their area. Whichever area offers the best incentives is where the business develops.
In this proposal, it assumes that businesses would agree to an income tax and other requirements because the JEDD area would be such a desirable location.
Arnett said he did not know why a business would be attracted to the JEDD area.
For example, most communities offer 100-percent tax abatement for the first 15 years to encourage economic development, but the JEDD cannot offer that, Arnett said.
"The bottom line, in my opinion, is this document does not do anything as an incentive for development in the corridor," Arnett said.
Canal Winchester and Lancaster have yet to vote on the agreement. Technically the JEDD does not exist until a business petitions to enter it.