Annexation – Where Things Stand

by Eric MacGilvray

As most of you know, the Village of Riverlea and the City of Worthington are currently negotiating terms of annexation to be put before the voters in both municipalities. The purpose of this memo is to bring you up to date on the negotiations so far, and to invite you to take part in a public forum following the regular Village Council meeting on June 20 to discuss the issue. We would like to give you a chance to ask questions about the process so far, and to solicit your input on a number of important issues that remain to be decided.


Back in November 2010 a group of Riverlea residents circulated a petition requesting that the Village initiate annexation proceedings with Worthington. Under Ohio law, if such a petition is signed by 25% of electors then Council must pass an ordinance appointing three commissioners to negotiate terms of annexation.

In early February the Village received notice from the Board of Elections that the petition had enough signatures to trigger the statute. At the next regular meeting on February 22 Council appointed three of its members, Scott GordonKirk McHugh, and myself, as annexation commissioners. This ordinance was delivered to the Worthington City Council, and at a special meeting on April 10 they appointed three of their members, Louis GooreyRobert Chosy and Robert Schmidt, to serve as commissioners.

The statute gives the commission 120 days from that point – until August 9 – to negotiate the terms of annexation. If we fail to agree on terms, then the Franklin County Probate Judge will appoint a seventh commissioner to break the tie. The annexation proposal must then be approved by a simple majority of voters in both municipalities in order to pass. If it passes, then annexation would take effect 30-45 days after the election.

The commissioners convened on April 15 to discuss procedural matters, and have met weekly since May 5 to work through the various substantive issues. Although we haven’t always agreed, the discussions have been amicable, and the aim of all parties has been to work out a fair proposal that could be attractive to voters in both municipalities.

We hope to have a proposal on the ballot in November, but the statutory timetable puts us hard up against the 2011 filing deadline for ballot initiatives (August 10), so there’s a chance that the vote won’t take place until the primary election in the spring of 2012.

Conclusions to date

The outcome of our discussions so far can be divided into three broad categories: (1) implications of annexation that aren’t subject to negotiation, but that Riverlea residents should be aware of as they decide how to vote; (2) issues subject to negotiation on which the commissioners largely agree; and (3) issues subject to negotiation on which the commissioners either disagree or haven’t yet reached a decision. I should emphasize that no final decisions have been made about anything, and so items in category (2) could be moved into category (3) if substantial concerns are brought to our attention. Nothing is set in stone yet.

  1. Implications of annexation
    1. Taxation. The property tax rate in Worthington is about 3.5 mills lower than in Riverlea, which would translate to roughly a $250 annual savings for a house assessed at $200,000. This figure does not take into account any special assessments that Riverlea residents might be required to pay, on which see below.

      In addition, Worthington levies a 2.5% local income tax, whereas Riverlea has no income tax. This tax would apply to anyone who works at home or runs a business in Riverlea, and to anyone who works in a community with a local income tax rate of less than 2.5%, in which case the difference would be paid to Worthington.

      Finally, in the event of annexation Riverlea residents would pay $5 more ($20 instead of $15) for vehicle licenses, and would pay a surcharge of $1.50/cubic foot for water and sewage usage, which is projected to amount to about $18/year for the average household.

    2. Services. As stated in my previous memo most residents probably wouldn’t notice much of a difference in the level of municipal services that they receive in the event of annexation. Two exceptions are that Riverlea residents would receive the resident discount at the Community Center and the Griswold Center, and that Worthington provides street sweeping and curbside leaf removal whereas Riverlea doesn’t currently provide those services. Worthington staff are preparing a comprehensive list of services that they provide to residents, and we’ll let you know if we learn of any other major differences.
    3. Streetlights and sidewalks. Worthington ordinances allow 51% of residents on a block to petition to add sidewalks, and for property owners representing 60% of the frontage on a block to petition to add streetlights. Residents are assessed for 50% of construction costs for sidewalks, and for the cost of any upgrade to streetlights beyond a basic wood pole design. The Worthington City Council also has the power to install sidewalks and/or streetlights unilaterally if they determine that there’s a significant public safety concern. That power has rarely been used; one exception is on Evening Street between South Street and Dublin-Granville Road, where sidewalks were installed over the objections of the residents because of a concern about the safety of children walking to school.
    4. Street footprint. The Worthington commissioners, who are all Council members, have said that they have no intention of connecting streets in Riverlea to streets in Worthington. However they can’t bind future Councils against doing this. With the exception of the eastern end of Melbourne Place, any effort to connect Worthington and Riverlea streets would require an eminent domain action.
    5. Ordinances. Riverlea residents would of course be subject to Worthington rather than Riverlea ordinances in the event of annexation. It isn’t feasible for us to conduct a full review of the differences between the two codes, but it’s safe to say that there are differences (pro and con) that some people would find important – for example, regarding street parking, yard signs, waste disposal, leashing of pets, keeping of livestock, solicitations, etc. Zoning issues are considered separately below. The codified ordinances of both municipalities are searchable online, so if any of these issues is of interest to you then we encourage you to look into it further.
  2. Issues largely decided
    1. Architectural review. In the event of annexation the High Street properties in Riverlea would become part of the Worthington Architectural Review District (ARD), and external improvements to those properties would be subject to the same level and kind of review as properties in Old Worthington and along the High Street and Dublin-Granville Road corridors. As many of you know this is a fairly stringent review process.

      The commissioners have decided that it wouldn’t make sense to include the rest of Riverlea in the Worthington ARD, because the housing stock is so different from what exists in Old Worthington, and because we believe that most Riverlea residents wouldn’t want to be subject to that level of review. The Worthington commissioners feel that it would be too cumbersome from an administrative standpoint for the City to set up a separate ARD just for the non-High Street properties in Riverlea, and we agree.

      This means that in the event of annexation external improvements to the non-High Street properties in Riverlea would no longer require special approval by a planning commission. Residents would of course have to obtain building permits and observe Worthington ordinances regarding setback and height requirements etc., but there would not be an additional layer of review based on aesthetic considerations.

    2. Infrastructure. In the event of annexation, Worthington would bring the streets and curbs in Riverlea up to the standard found in the rest of Worthington, and then add them to the City’s regular maintenance and repair schedule. This means that the curbs and gutters would be reconstructed and an asphalt surface would replace the current slurry seal. It’s not yet clear when this work would be done, but it would probably not begin for at least five years and would be spread out over several years after that. The question of how it would be paid for is discussed under heading (3) below.

      The Worthington City Engineer feels, based on a review of the break history, that our water lines have a number of years of life left in them, and so barring an unforeseen increase in breaks they don’t intend to replace them in the near future. Worthington, like Riverlea, is conducting an Ohio EPA-mandated study of their sanitary sewer system, and we won’t know what repairs need to be done until those studies are complete. Again the question of how those repairs would be paid for is discussed below.

    3. Identity. In the event of annexation our neighborhood would still be called the Village of Riverlea, and the entrance signs on Riverglen Drive, Southington Avenue and Olentangy Boulevard would remain in place, although they would be maintained by volunteers or a neighborhood association rather than by the City of Worthington itself. This is the practice in other Worthington neighborhoods and subdivisions.
  3. Issues still being debated
    1. Special assessment. As expected, this has been the major sticking point in the negotiations. The Riverlea commissioners have argued that no special assessment should be placed on Riverlea residents for infrastructure repairs. Our streets were re-paved last year and the surface is expected to last for 8-10 years. There is no evidence that our water mains and sewers are in substantially worse condition than those that exist in many parts of Worthington. As citizens of Worthington, Riverlea residents would of course be paying taxes toward capital improvements elsewhere in the city. We have therefore proposed that Riverlea simply be rolled into the regular Worthington maintenance and repair schedule, and that Riverlea residents be taxed no differently from anyone else in Worthington. We’re willing to consider exceptions in cases where there’s a clear difference between the condition of infrastructure in Riverlea and in Worthington, for example in the case of our curbs and gutters and the eventual removal of our sanitary sewer lift station.

      The Worthington commissioners have argued that because there’s a known need for a large capital improvement project in Riverlea in the near future, and because projected tax revenues from Riverlea wouldn’t cover the cost of that project, Riverlea residents should be assessed for the cost of resurfacing the streets, replacing the curbs and gutters, and any EPA-mandated improvements to the sewer system, as well as any unforeseen upgrades or replacement of the water lines that become necessary within an agreed-upon time period. They have pointed out that Riverlea residents will need to be assessed for these repairs in any case should Riverlea remain an independent Village.

      The amount of the assessment would depend on a number of factors, such as what work turns out to be necessary, when and how quickly it’s done, what interest rates are at that time, how the assessment is designed (e.g., by frontage, property value, household, etc.), over what period it’s paid, what state-level assistance is available, and so on. The amount would be substantial under any scenario. Worthington staff are going to provide us with a spreadsheet, similar to a mortgage calculator, that will allow us to estimate assessment amounts by plugging in different assumptions for each of these variables.

      These discussions are ongoing, and it isn’t clear at this point whether there’s any middle ground between the two positions. Failing that, there are two possible paths forward: we can put either the Riverlea or the Worthington proposal before the voters, with the understanding that this would make the approval of annexation less likely on one side or the other, or we can declare an impasse and have a seventh commissioner decide the issue. Needless to say there are pros and cons to each of these options, and this is one of the main issues that we’d like to discuss at the public forum.

    2. Zoning. Most of Riverlea best fits Worthington’s R-10 zoning designation for low-density single-family residences. There are two exceptions: the larger lots along the river fit the R-16 zoning designation for very low-density single-family residences, although they could also be zoned as R-10. The main difference is that R-16 has a 100-ft. frontage requirement and a 10-ft. side property line setback, whereas R-10 has an 80-ft. frontage requirement and an 8-ft. side setback. We would like to get input from those residents about whether they would prefer to be zoned one way or the other. Riverlea currently has a 50-ft. frontage requirement and a 10-ft. setback for all properties. Existing construction would of course be grandfathered in, but new construction that doesn’t meet these criteria would require a variance. There are no lot coverage restrictions under either of the Worthington zoning designations; Riverlea currently has a 40% coverage limit for hard surfaces including driveways, garages, decks and patios.

      The other exception to R-10 zoning involves the High Street properties, which could be zoned either as AR-3, medium-density apartments, or AR-4.5, low-density apartments. The main difference is that AR-3 permits commercial usage with the approval of the Worthington Municipal Planning Commission. The Worthington commissioners have expressed an interest in seeing those properties eventually converted to commercial use as in the rest of the High Street corridor, and we would like to discuss this issue at the public forum.

    3. Representation. The Worthington charter requires that citizens be residents of Worthington for at least two years before they’re eligible to run for elective office. This means that in the event of annexation Riverlea residents wouldn’t be eligible to run for office in Worthington until some time after the 2013 election, meaning that barring any special elections they would effectively be unable to run for office until 2015. The Worthington commissioners have said that they’re willing in principle to exempt Riverlea residents from this rule, but it’s not clear whether there’s any way to do that short of amending the charter, which they are reluctant to do.

The Riverlea commissioners will host a public forum on June 20 to give residents a chance to ask questions and to get your input on the issues that remain to be decided – especially the question of assessment for infrastructure repairs. We anticipate a short Council meeting, so the forum should get started at about 7:30 pm; room 185 of Thomas Worthington High School. The nearest entrance is on the east side of the school, just west of the McConnell Arts Center rear parking lot. We hope that you can be there, and are of course happy to respond to any questions that you may have in the meantime.

Finally, be sure to vote!