By Nicole Hennessy
More than 10 years ago Olmsted Falls City Council President Garry Thompson helped create a joint economic development district in conjunction with Olmsted Township.
At the time, when the district was decided upon, “housing developments were proliferating all over the township,” Thompson explained. “By creating the JEDD, it protected about 250 acres of the township from having homes developed on it.”
This 250 acres of land west of Stearns Road, despite efforts put forth by both governments, remains undeveloped, some small parcels of which are for farming. However, as it is made up of privatel owned parcels, some revenue is gained through property tax, which the communities split evenly.
“The main benefit of (the JEDD) is that it allows for the business development of that property, which creates income tax revenue,” Thompson said. The township itself cannot levy an income tax, but the city can.
Now, amid discussions about the district becoming Stearns Crossing Business Park, Thompson said many people wonder, “What’s the holdup?”
The answer is a tossup between politics and economic difficulties.
In terms of future collaborations with Olmsted Township in other areas, Thompson said there have been talks.
“We’ve always had our doors open to them… ’cause we’re all faced with budget cuts from the state and from the state taxes in the next two years,” he said.
One thing that has been discussed is a joint dispatch service for police and fire departments. There is a joint dispatch project comprised of Westlake, Rocky River, Fairview Park and Bay Village. And while Olmsted Falls and Olmsted Township are not included, Thompson thinks their own version is feasible.
“There would be some savings – possibly – in a dispatch center,” he said. When that would take place, he’s not sure.
Pondering a broader approach to collaboration, in terms of a collective Westshore government, Fairview Park resident Rick DeChant, drinking coffee at Nate’s Deli, lists a few questions he wonders about.
“Does every city around here need a snorkel truck that costs $7 million?” he asked, regarding fire departments. While that number is an overestimate, his question had more to do with cities pitching in to purchase expensive equipment. He also asked, “In volume, can we get a better pension rate with a larger number of firefighters?
“There is a cry for regionalism. We are an area of the country that would benefit from it,” he said. “We almost need to be the city of Westshore.”
Thompson said the only way he thinks something like that could ever happen is if the county took over. This he does not see as being realistic.
“While I think it could be good, I don’t think it will ever happen,” he said. “Regionalism is great, but nobody wants to take the first step, and take the chance that it could be wrong.”
Recently, the Department of Development in Columbus acknowledged high demand “among Ohio communities for a new program designed to provide financial assistance to local governments for planning and implementing projects that improve the efficiency of delivering community services.”
So far, the Office of Redevelopment has received 103 grant requests totaling $8.5 million for feasibility, planning or management studies, as well as 12 loan requests totaling $3.5 million for implementation projects. And, through the Local Government Innovation Fund program, the state will award up to $100,000 in grant funds per feasibility study, up to $100,000 in loan assistance (per entity) for demonstration projects and up to $500,000 in loan assistance for collaborative projects.
The cities awarded will be decided upon in June.
In terms of the possibility of Olmsted Falls and Olmsted Township one day becoming a single city, Thompson stated, it could happen. “Probably.”