Monday, February 09, 2009

North Canton's On Again Off Again Annexation Policy Hinders City's Future

Prepared Comments Made to
February 9, 2009

I would like to begin by commending City Council as well as Mayor Held in the city’s newfound efforts to expand the city’s borders through annexation of 22 acres of property belonging to Dan Fosnaught. City leaders should follow through at all costs to make this annexation a reality for North Canton. If required, the city can fund the annexation efforts with the $973,000 remaining of the $1.5 million previously set aside for the North Canton CIC.

I would also urge city leaders to pursue efforts to undue the advantages that townships have now been afforded in fighting annexations recently enacted into state law. I do not believe that the legislature envisioned the collusion that is now occurring between Plain and Jackson townships and the City of Canton that effectively ends the growth of small cities such as the City of North Canton. That law is also counterproductive to increased efficiencies that can be achieved as cities increase in size with consolidation of services and bureaucracies that can better serve the public. I urge North Canton to pursue changes to the annexation laws, both through the courts and through the state legislature.

My concern tonight is the history of North Canton’s annexation policy regarding use of city water as a tool for annexation over the last decade and a half and how it has or has not been used and most importantly why that policy flip flops every few years.

Research shows that North Canton first began requiring nonresidents to agree to annex into the city in exchange for city water with the passage of Ordinance No. 118-93. Council member Tim Watkins, Chairman of the Water, Sewer & Rubbish committee at the time this legislation was passed is quoted from city council minutes of December 20, 1993, as stating: “…this is probably going to be one of the single most effective tools that exists that we currently have to promote and increase our viability as a city and a city of growth.”

Ordinance No. 118-93 passed unanimously with votes from Greg Wernet, Paul Blohm, Rick McLaughlin, Daryl Revoldt, Tim Watkins and Gary Wechter. The legislation was immediately signed by Mayor William Hines.

In a Repository news report titled, “Canal Fulton wants to grow through annexation,” dated November 9, 2001, Mayor Shawn Kenney tells Canal Fulton City Council “A city that doesn’t expand is a dead city.”

In another Repository news report titled “City pushes annexations,” dated October 15, 2006, the report states “The population of the state capital now exceeds that of Cleveland. And one big way Columbus did it was through annexation, using water to lure property owners into the city limits.”

The same news article reports that the City of Canton had annexed roughly 2,500 acres in the previous decade and that the City of Massillon had doubled in size since 1974. The article goes on to quote Canton Council Majority Leader Donald Casar who states “Without annexation, we’re going to die on the vine…we have to grow to survive.”

North Canton was put on the proper path for growth with the passage of Ordinance 118-93 in 1993 using water as a tool to requiring annexation into the city.

Unfortunately, this policy was changed under the administration of former Mayor Tom Rice and City Administrator Michael Miller with Ordinance No. 132-04. Under that ordinance, North Canton City Council removed the annexation requirement for nonresidents who receive city water as a precondition for those services.

Marcia Kiesling, Chairwoman of Community & Economic Development headed the committee to amend the annexation requirement with passage of Ordinance No. 132-04. Council members voting to remove the annexation requirement were Dave Lindower, Jeff Peters, Greg Sarbach, Jon Snyder, Doug Foltz, and Marcia Kiesling.

The reason given for removing the requirement according to a Repository report on October 5, 2004, titled “Annexation clause removed from water pacts,” was that “[the requirement] had outlived its usefulness and hoped that it would make the city more competitive with other water companies.”

Well apparently that requirement is useful after all as North Canton City Council has reinstituted the annexation requirement with the passage of Ordinance No. 13-09. This latest legislation was passed on an expedited schedule with Marcia Kiesling, Jeff Peters, Daryl Revoldt, Jon Snyder, and Jeff Davies supporting final passage on February 2. Council members Doug Foltz and Pat DeOrio abstained due to conflicts of interest.

I am a little unnerved to observe my elected leaders pass whatever legislation is placed before them without great care and deliberation. Shouldn’t there be more debate on issues?

Shouldn’t each council member come to his/her own conclusion on passage of legislation instead of acting like lemmings? For council members Peters, Snyder, and Kiesling, your vote for Ordinance No. 13-09 reinstating the annexation requirement was in direct opposition to legislation you supported when you voted on Ordinance No. 132-04 removing the annexation requirement.

Former City Administrator Miller’s recommendation to Council to remove the annexation requirement was noted in an Email dated September 9, 2004. Mr. Miller stated that when he was employed with the City of Canton “[he] found that the requirement of North Canton to annex in exchange for water service to be an advantage to Canton in extending its water.”

Has anyone given any thought to the fact that Canton under state law can require annexation into the City of Canton when providing Canton water to nonresidents?

Any municipality that provides services such as sewer and water outside its borders can require a property owner to annex into the municipality providing those services. That is per the Ohio Supreme Court in Bakies v. Perrysburg, 2006-Ohio-1190.

Maybe the City of Canton is playing the game a little smarter than North Canton by not stating its intentions for annexation as a precursor to receiving those services. North Canton is upfront with its intentions of annexation when it supplies city water to nonresidents.

Who knows what the City of Canton may require in the future after it extends water to nonresidents? Bakies v. Perrysburg certainly raises the possibility that the City of Canton could require annexation to Canton at some point in the future for its nonresident water customers.

That possibility should be pointed out to all prospective North Canton water customers when annexation opportunities arise for North Canton and potential customers believe that Canton is a viable choice without the upfront requirement to annex into Canton. That requirement is supported by state law and not pointed out by Canton when it extends its water lines.

The City of North Canton is not asking any more than what Canton or any other community would ask for when it extends city services.

Without annexations, municipalities die on the vine. Canton Council Member Mr. Casar had that exactly right. North Canton will die on the vine if it does not pursue annexations.

North Canton must embark on an aggressive annexation policy. Municipalities came into existence with annexations and they do not stay vibrant without continued growth of city boundaries through annexations. Water is a tool for annexations and should not be given away. For far too long North Canton has given away the store and not asked for anything in return.

Good quality water is a service we can provide for our residents and should not be used to build a water system that grows far beyond what the city needs or what the city can operate effectively. We have a municipal water system for the city and its residents. It should be nothing more.

If North Canton continues to play water provider to the world it will only create a system it cannot manage and the city will lose in the end. And along the way, North Canton will have lost opportunities to grow the city.

Thank you,

Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton