By Scott Halasz
SUGARCREEK TOWNSHIP — The City of Centerville has invited Sugarcreek Township’s trustees to meet in a joint executive session to try and finally resolve the fire service issue at the Cornerstone of Centerville.
According to an email obtained by the Xenia Daily Gazette, Mayor C. Mark Kingseed proposed a Saturday morning session where negotiations will take place until “the issue is resolved or we collectively reach a complete impasse.”
“I believe it is essential that the ultimate decision-makers, i.e. the elected representatives of both jurisdictions, sit down face-to-face and devote the necessary time to a good-faith effort to negotiate a settlement,” Kingseed said in the email.
The issue is how much Centerville is willing to pay Sugarcreek Township for fire and emergency medical service at Cornerstone, which is on Centerville-annexed property what was once in the township. Currently Costco is the only open retail business but several restaurants and Kroger have announced plans to construct there as well, which will undoubtedly lead to increased calls for service.
Township Administrator Barry Tiffany said the trustees are discussing the email, sent June 8, but stopped short of saying the meeting will take place.
“The concern of the township is that we (had had) eight years of negotiations with the City of Centerville,” he said. “The fact of the matter is the City of Centerville has drawn a line in the sand and said ‘we’re not going to budge.’ If that’s the case, I don’t know what we’re going to talk about. We’re absolutely willing to meet to resolve things. We’ve made it very clear to them we’re not willing to accept the terms they’ve proposed to date.”
Before opening of Costco, Centerville proposed — and said the township accepted — a tax incentive agreement where the city would pay 55 percent of tax dollars plus another five percent set aside to cover fire and EMS.
The township rejected that because it would end up losing money for the next 30 years if it provided fire services to the shopping center, according to township officials.
In addition to the actual percentage of tax dollars, the type of tax dollars are also an issue. The Centerville plan, Tiffany previously said, includes no tax money from a proposed residential development within the site. Tentatively it calls for approximately 300 apartments and upwards of 1,000 residents.
He said a fire department would normally receive approximately $230,000 a year and Centerville’s plan would contribute just $85,000.
Four days before Costco opened, the township created a new fire district that excluded the Cornerstone development and portions of nearby public roads including Interstate 675, Feedwire Road, Brown Road and Dille Road.
That action resulted in a series of lawsuits, motions and mediation sessions all aimed at creating some sort of resolution. The township ultimately rescinded the fire district and has agreed to provide fire and EMS service to the area, but that didn’t bring closure to the issue.
The latest court action took place Monday when attorneys for the Oberer Companies — the developer of the property — filed a motion asking Federal Judge Walter H. Rice to deny a motion from the trustees seeking dismissal of a federal suit Oberer filed in March.
The federal lawsuit seeks monetary damages, injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment that will permanently prevent the township from excluding the Cornerstone from its fire district. At least one prospective tenant — Milano’s — has withdrawn its plan to move into Cornerstone because of the fire/EMS issue.
In the motion for dismissal, township attorneys argue that the Oberer lawsuit has no merit at this point.
“It is the township’s position that the claims raised in the lawsuit are not legally sufficient for us to get to the trial phase,” Greene County Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Hayden, who represents Sugarcreek Township previously said. “Right now there is no fire district in place. The bulk of the basis of their complaint deals with a fire district that doesn’t exist. It’s not ripe for review.”
A pre-trial phone conference regarding the latest motions is set for Moday. A spokesperson from Judge Rice’s office said a hearing date would be scheduled during the conference.
The developer hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“I am hopeful that the trustees will meet with the city and attempt to reach an agreement,” said Oberer Companies owner George Oberer Jr. “Otherwise the courts will determine their destiny.”