During the March 19 Sunbury Village Council meeting, Council members approved Resolution 2014-05, formally declaring Village services available if the Delaware County Commissioners approved an Expedited Type II Annexation request filed by three Berkshire Township property owners to add 128.285 acres to the west side of the Village. On April 2 another Expedited Type II Annexation Request Services Resolution was approved by Council members for 183.912 additional acres under single ownership immediately adjacent to Dominion Homes Sunbury Meadows Subdivision.
Folks came out of the proverbial woodwork during the reading of the first resolution thinking that Sunbury was annexing both properties immediately. Village solicitor David Brehm explained that the annexation requests were filed at the county level by property owners; and that the Delaware County Commissioners, as per Ohio Revised Code, required the Village to pass a services resolution within 20 days of filing a petition to be annexed into the Village.
The annexation requests were subsequently approved by the County Commissioners and returned to the Village where they are required to sit for 60 days before being placed on a Council agenda, allowing Council members to discuss the petition’s merits.
The assumption has been that the multiple political subdivisions impacted by the two annexations, and property owners and developers favoring the annexations, have been communicating to whatever extent allowed by law. Property owners want to sell their land at a premium, developers wish to negotiate attractive tax incentives, political subdivisions want the growth that comes with development.
School districts like Big Walnut, formal political subdivisions themselves, are often disregarded when villages and townships negotiate tax incentives with developers.
During last Wednesday evening’s Village Council meeting, Big Walnut Local School District Superintendent Steve Mazzi, Assistant Superintendent Angie Pollock, Board of Education VP Mindy Meyer, and the School District’s attorney Caleb Bell were in chambers to remind Council members of the need to include School District administrators and Board of Education members in all phases of negotiations with developers.
Mazzi asked Council members to continue the collaborative spirit that has developed over the years between the Village and the School District to ensure the best interests of each entity as negotiations with developers behind the annexations proceed.
“As discussions continue about development and possible annexation, we all know that developers are anticipating moving forward as soon as they can,” Mazzi said. “Developers also realize that beyond local village council and township trustee approvals, there are strategies that can both involve schools and bar schools from the decision making process in regard to tax incentives and the laws that govern this.
“As superintendent of the Big Walnut Local School District I have to make sure that we are good stewards of our tax-payer dollars,” Mazzi continued. “But I also have the charge of making sure, to the extent possible, that when development comes to the area — whether it be commercial or residential development, the schools not only need to be in the forefront of thought with council members and developers, but also, to the extent permitted by law, to be at the table for any and all negotiations; because with development will come families and children that will impact our daily operations, both monetarily and the need for building space.”
Mazzi said that schools are a critical component of any community’s infrastructure. They need to be kept whole; and that need should be a part of all negotiations that contain tax incentives.
“It’s not that the School District is opposed to development,” Mazzi added. “We are supportive of controlled, systematic growth which should involve keeping the School District whole in regard to containing costs, helping to relieve the burden on our local property owners.”
Caleb Bell, as the School District’s legal council, said he was concerned about the demands that growth would place on the district, including, but not limited to, the increased capital costs needed to educate the added students that accompany growth — residential and commercial.
“In many ways, growth can help the School District,” Bell said. “But if you stimulate growth with tax abatements it can also divert money away from the School District. Using tax incentives to attract growth can have a direct impact on schools.”
Bell noted economic tools that political entities often use during periods of rapid growth like Tax Incentive Financing and Community Reinvestment Area Abatements, and how those tools and others can make school districts whole.
“It’s important that the village, townships and schools work together to make growth more beneficial for the entire community,” Bell said. “Other communities that experienced rapid growth — like New Albany — brought together economic policy committees to explore how they were going to do tax abatements and foster collaborative growth.”
Sunbury Mayor Tommy Hatfield, a strong advocate of maintaining a healthy relationship between the Village and Big Walnut schools, said the impact of the two proposed annexations on schools is a part of all annexation request discussions.
“Everybody we talk to, we talk about schools,” Hatfield said. “Everybody up here (on the council dais) understands that partnership is important. We’re working to come up with a unified planning area to meet the demands of growth — Delaware County, Berkshire Township, the schools. Something that works not only for the village but also the entire Big Walnut community.”