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Howland residents still concerned about annexation

HOWLAND — A township trustees meeting that began with trustees commenting on the continued tension with Niles ended with about a dozen residents coming up to officials to ask questions about potentially switching utilities to avoid annexation into that city.

A Niles resolution, passed in November, requires contiguous parties using city utilities — including water, sewage and electricity — be annexed into the city. Noncontiguous parties or those that remain outside the corporate limit will be expected to sign a development agreement and would also subject them to the city’s 2 percent income tax.

“The part that wears on me the most is to see the fear in the residents,” said Howland Township administrator Darlene St. George following Wednesday’s meeting.

St. George said the problem is not necessarily the annexation of contiguous properties, but the “overreach” of an agreement for noncontiguous properties, which would require noncontiguous properties to annex into the city if they became contiguous, and would prohibit those property owners from publicly speaking out against annexation in those situations.

Niles Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz has previously said an “example agreement” attached to the original legislation is just that — an example — and is subject to changes.

Trustee James LaPolla said residents have been calling to inquire how they can switch from Niles sewer and water and electric service. He said trustees, along with three other townships have sent a letter to the Trumbull County commissioners asking if they could be switched to a different water and sewer provider. He encouraged residents to reach out to commissioners as well.

LaPolla said in regards to electricity, Ohio has a law that allows non-city residents to seek another provider.

“That does not happen overnight,” LaPolla said.

He said residents interested in the switch can e-mail the township at howlandtownship.org or call the township at 330-856-2340 to put their information on a list that will be compiled and forwarded to Ohio Edison. Inquiries will not be binding, he said.

Howland resident Claudia Fox asked trustees about the impact that annexation would have on the township’s budget and operation of services like police and fire.

Vansuch said the township has not done an assessment to find out the dollar amount, but if the estimated 20 to 25 percent of the township was affected, the impact would be significant.

Vansuch also provided residents with information on “no annex zones” that were established in the late 1990s when Eastwood Field was being built.

Trustees joined other governmental bodies in sending a letter to Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred Jr., arguing for the importance of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers baseball team. The team is among one of 42 minor league teams that may lose its professional development contract with the MLB in 2021.

“After Howland Township and the city of Niles negotiated a land deal in 1998 that led to the construction of Eastwood Field, the city built an outstanding facility that is perfect for baseball games and other community events,” Vansuch said, reading from the letter.

Vansuch said he hopes the result of a Tuesday economic development summit hosted by the Trumbull County commissioners will lead to “constructive discussion” with the city of Niles, which did not attend the event.

St. George, likewise, said she “remains optimistic” that a resolution to the tensions will come sooner than later. She said although the Ohio Revised Code lays down clear laws on annexation, the township opposes it on principle because of loss of land. She said in this case, annexation is also causing a problem because of the fear it has instilled in township residents.

“It’s about this blanket of fear that they’ve laid over the community,” said St. George. “This is about freedom of choice.”

avugrincic@tribtoday.com

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