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How Annexation Works In Columbus
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Annexation has been in the news a lot lately. A battle over annexation between the city of Columbus and Penn National Gaming – the developer of the Westside casino – was recently resolved. Not before both parties went to court and then entered into complex negotiations.
First a simple definition of annexation. This is Kevin Wheeler, assistant planning administrator for the city of Columbus.
“Annexation is the process wherein a municipality adds territory to its boundaries that was previously in a township or an unincorporated area,” Wheeler said.
Sometimes it’s the city that initiates the process; but more often it’s the developer of a subdivision, a shopping center or some other sort of business or a manufacturer. The developer files a petition, which has to be approved by the county commission and then the Columbus city council. Then there’s legal paperwork that follows.
“By and far the most common scenario is that a property owner will seek to have their property annexed in order to obtain water and sewer services,” Wheeler said.
That last part – water and sewer services – is the backbone of a Columbus annexation agreement. Former Columbus Mayor Buck Rinehart oversaw a lot of annexation during his tenure as mayor from 1984 to 1992.
“There are just a lot of working parts in an annexation. Most of the time annexations are not going to occur if the entity that is doing the annexing won’t provide water and sewer – you’ve got to have water and sewer – that drives it all,” Rinehart said.
And the City of Columbus calls the shots on water and sewer since it’s just about the only provider of those services in Franklin County. It is, as Rinehart calls it, a heavy hammer that the city wields but wields judiciously.
“Years ago way before my time going back to the 50s, under Mayor Sensenbrenner, and the members of council at that time, the city adopted a policy that if you wanted water and sewer you had to annex,” Rinehart said.
Penn National Gaming wanted water and sewer for its west side casino but without annexation. The city said “No.”
“If you want to build a business or a development in the outlying areas if you’re in Franklin County and Columbus is the only provider of water and sewer then Columbus will write the rules and Columbus does,” Rinehart said.
There are, of course, economic benefits for Columbus when it annexes. Here again is the city’s Kevin Wheeler.
“The benefits vary from the land use that ultimately comes to fruition on the site,” Wheeler said. “So if it’s a job-producing use we get a revenue stream because of income tax. We also get a portion of property taxes from other sorts of uses such as residential, although that’s less significant than income taxes as a revenue source.”
Now former mayor Buck Rinehart:
“Employees now pay 2 and a half percent income tax to the city and the second economic boost is the real estate tax. Both the inside and the outside millage benefit the Columbus community,” Rinehart said.
Which brings us back to Penn National’s dispute with the City of Columbus:
“The deal was, if you want city support, you’re going to annex, and if you don’t want to annex, you’re not going to have it,” Rinehart said.
As the result of the agreement reached in late May, Penn National will apply for annexation and the city will supply water and sewer services. The annexation process will take months to complete.