By Michelle Dupler
Franklin Township should see its first payment from a $39 million agreement with Columbus in mid-January.
The agreement to share tax revenues from the Hollywood Casino on Georgesville Road was signed on Dec. 17, with the first payment under the agreement due 30 days after the deal was finalized.
That is welcome news for the small government, which is facing shortfalls in both its police and fire budgets for 2014.
The township’s 2014 budget hasn’t been set yet, and trustees at the Jan. 2 meeting had different opinions about whether the money from the agreement with Columbus should be used toward police and fire protection.
New trustee John Fleshman, who was elected in November to replace Paul Johnson, said he’d like to see some of the money from the agreement support police and fire. Trustee Tim Guyton said he might prefer to see the money spent on amenities such as sidewalks, sewers and parks that would improve the quality of life for township residents.
The agreement is the product of Columbus’ annexation of the 108 acres where the Hollywood Casino now sits and that formerly was the site of a Delphi manufacturing plant.
When it was announced the casino would be built on the old Delphi site, the township expected to see significant tax revenues coming in at the same time shifts in state policy were stripping other local revenue sources.
But casino owners found they couldn’t get city water or sewer services without annexing into the city, so the casino property became part of Columbus and took the expected tax revenues along with it.
The city and Franklin Township – represented by Guyton and the township’s attorney – have been negotiating with the city to share revenues from the casino. Those negotiations culminated in a 50-year agreement that calls for Columbus to pay the township a total of $39 million. The agreement is retroactive to the opening of the casino in October 2012.
Guyton’s participation in the negotiation was a sticking point at the Jan. 2 meeting, when trustee Don Cook introduced a resolution requiring approval from two of the three township trustees before any trustee or township employee could talk to the township’s lawyer and trigger the payment of attorney fees.
Cook voted against the agreement with Columbus when trustees approved it in September 2013, saying at the time, that he didn’t like some of the requirements placed upon the township.
Guyton accused Cook of springing the attorney contact resolution without warning.
“He pulls a surprise. Did you know about it?” Guyton said to Fleshman.
“Similar to the 10 o’clock meeting the other day. That was a surprise,” Cook countered.
Cook said he’s been displeased with Guyton calling two recent daytime special meetings to talk about the township’s trash pickup contract and a second agreement with Columbus about maintenance to Georgesville Road.
“Why did we have that meeting that early?” Fleshman asked of the meeting at 10 a.m. Dec. 31 to discuss the Georgesville agreement.
“Convenience of the fiscal officer and department heads,” Guyton said. He noted that agendas were posted for each meeting giving residents notice.
But Cook said he didn’t think posting a notice on the door of the township’s business office was sufficient. Guyton noted that agendas also were published on the township website.
Cook was particularly upset about the Dec. 19 meeting to discuss extending the trash contract. Trustees voted 2-1 at that meeting to extend the contract for an additional two years. The original contract was through December 2015, and now will run through December 2017. Cook said he thought some things should have been changed in the contract and that a two-year extension was premature.
The attorney contract resolution allows two trustees to consent individually by email to use of the township attorney. The Messenger questioned whether that amounted to conducting business outside of an open public meeting as required by Ohio law.
Guyton said he didn’t believe that policy was a violation of public meeting laws because the trustees previously adopted an annual spending cap of $50,000 for attorney fees, and approvals under the policy requiring agreement of two trustees would fall under the previous financial authorization adopted in public.
Also at the regular meeting, the trustees elected Don Cook as board chairman for 2014. Fleshman was elected vice chairman.