Cornerstone Files Suit Against Sugarcreek Township Over Emergency Services
The owners of the Cornerstone development, where a Costco store opened in November, have filed a lawsuit against Sugarcreek Township over fire and emergency services.
The suit is the result of a simmering controversy over who pays for those services. Centerville annexed the land from Sugarcreek Township in 2006, and the township sued twice and lost over its rights to the land. Centerville later created a a special tax district known as a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) to help pay for infrastructure and entice development. TIFs take any taxes from gains in property values on a development and put them back into the site over a set number of years. In this case, a 30-year TIF will redirect potentially millions of tax dollars into infrastructure needs for the 227-acre development.
The trouble is, the city of Centerville doesn’t have its own fire and emergency service, so the township is still providing that, but without seeing tax benefits from the growth that’s happening on the annexed land. Sugarcreek Township still gets taxes from the land, but at its original valuation. State law requires TIF districts to negotiate tax benefits with local school districts, which Centerville has done with Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools. But there’s no state provision for dealing with this specific situation in which a township provides fire services for an annexed area.
After months of haggling over how to compensate the township, the two parties reached an impasse. While Centerville officials say a verbal compromise was reached, Sugarcreek Township officials deny that.
“Did we have a deal? No, we never did have a deal,” said township administrator Barry Tiffany. “Because they never presented anything to us that was accepted.”
Tiffany says in 2014 the township received about $1200 dollars in taxes on the property out of a total fire and EMS budget of 2.4 million dollars. Additional commercial and residential development on the land in the future could mean thousands more dollars in revenues to help pay to serve the area.
Greg Horn, Centerville’s city manager, says the city offered Sugarcreek Township the option to receive 55 percent of the property tax increase on commercial properties and that the offer was rejected, but it was never put in writing. Tiffany is now asking for 75 percent of the new taxes on both commercial and residential.
In the meantime, Sugarcreek Township redrew its fire and EMS lines to remove Cornerstone and Costco from service effective Feb. 1.
After a series of attempts to remedy the situation fell through, Oberer, which co-owns and manages the Cornerstone land, has sued for damages and asked a judge for a temporary restraining order requiring the township to service the area.
George Oberer Jr., CEO of the Oberer companies, says companies other than Costco that are planning construction on the site are nervous about moving forward without a guarantee of reliable emergency services.
“The results are today that the development’s at a standstill,” said Oberer.
A judge could decide on Tuesday whether to force the township to continue providing emergency services.
Lewis Wallace is WYSO's managing editor, substitute host and economics reporter. Follow him @lewispants.