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Published: Tuesday, 1/11/2011

Springfield Twp./Holland development zone draws criticism

Springfield Township trustees, whose proposed joint economic development zone with the village of Holland faced criticism during a public hearing, could decide soon whether to place the issue before voters in May.

After the hearing, Trustee Bob Bethel said a decision needs to be made whether to put the issue on the May ballot, wait until November, or not take it before voters at all. Feb. 2 is the filing deadline for the May 3 election.

Trustee Andy Glenn said that before it goes to the ballot, trustees could modify the proposal, which calls for a 1.5 percent income tax on employees in the designated area in the Airport Highway corridor. Business profits would be taxed at that same rate.

During the hearing last week, business representatives, including some who said they moved to the township because it has no income tax, spoke against the proposal. A recurring theme: They would consider moving if the joint economic development zone is created.

Afterward, Mr. Glenn said he wants to meet with owners to see if anything could be changed, such as a modification in the income tax, to get their support.

Keith Sponseller, of the Sponseller Group, an engineering firm headquartered in the proposed zone, said the tax would deter economic development and eliminate the township's edge over communities with income taxes.

Tim Fry, of the JDI Group on Timberwolf Drive, suggested the township assess new development rather than tax existing businesses. His firm, he said, would reassess whether to expand locally if the zone is established.

Some residents questioned if the zone was being considered as a way to pay for police protection, an ongoing issue in the township. Voters twice since 2009, including last November, have rejected millage to pay for police service. The tax issue would have generated funds to pay for Lucas County sheriff's deputies who provide round-the-clock protection while a permanent solution is sought.

Mr. Glenn said the zone wasn't proposed in response to failed levies. The goal, he said, is to prevent raising property taxes. Revenue from the zone wouldn't be marked for any specific service, but it would fund services for the township that, with 25,000 residents, is larger than some cities, he noted.

Townships can generate revenue through property taxes or through establishment of a joint economic development zone, he said.

"We recognize we can't keep going back to property owners," Mr. Glenn said. He added that he wishes the state would give townships other tools to raise revenue, but until that happens, trustees have to use what the state gives them.

He told the audience of about 30 that the township has slashed its budget and is down to basic services. Additional cuts would force reductions in basic services such as street repair and snow clearing, he said.

Mr. Glenn said that the 1.5 percent income tax is low, and that most workers in the proposed zone already pay income tax elsewhere.

With the economic development zone, it would capture the first 1.5 percent and keep it here, he said.

For some in the zone, the income tax would be a new tax, he said.

The new zone possibly could generate $2 million to $2.5 million a year, Mr. Glenn said.

But he emphasized that is merely a preliminary estimate.

Plans call for 10 percent of the revenue to be earmarked for economic development, and the balance would be split 78 percent to the township and 22 percent to the village of Holland.

The following night, the village held a public hearing on the proposal.

The only comments made were by elected officials.

Village residents would not vote on the economic development zone, and it will be up to the township, not the village, to decide if the issue goes before voters.

If voters approve the development zone, Holland would be responsible for collecting the income tax, and Mayor Mike Yunker proposed the village use the Regional Income Tax Agency for the tax collection.

The agency provides services to collect income taxes for 180 municipalities in Ohio.

Mr. Bethel said he appreciates the cooperation between the village and the township. He said it seems clear the township will have to form its own police department and pay for it. He said he's not sure how that would look, but he said he is sure it will happen.

Before the second defeat of the police levy, officials were considering a development zone as a way to take the burden off property owners, he said. He noted that the proposed income tax is not tied directly to police service, but it would pay for services supported by the general fund, including police, fire, cemeteries, and roads.

Mayor Yunker recommended approval if the zone becomes a reality.

Councilman Lee Irons said the health and well-being of the Holland-Springfield community depends on a cooperative spirit, and he said he believes governments that work together work best.

Mr. Glenn thanked the village for its willingness to work with the township and said "we truly are one community."



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