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Newton Falls residents turn in petitions

Seeking referendums on meters, law director position

NEWTON FALLS — Displeased with village council’s decisions to spend $3.1 million on a meter replacement project and to make the law director a full-time position, residents have submitted referendum petitions to allow voters to overturn those votes.

“We don’t want them to spend that kind of money with a COVID pandemic,” said Jim Luonuansuu, a resident who helped spearhead the two referendum initiatives. “Citizens can’t afford more and more. We don’t know how much money we’re losing in income tax because of COVID. This isn’t the time to be spending more money.”

The referendums are at the village clerk’s office and will be given to the Trumbull County Board of Elections this week to check for valid signatures.

Each petition needs 140 valid signatures to get on the November ballot.

The meters petition has 330 submitted signatures and the law director one has 328 and were collected in 10 days, Luonuansuu said.

Village council on June 1 approved both legislative items.

Council wants to replace old utility meters with new remote wireless ones that will let customers monitor their own electrical power and water usage remotely.

At that meeting, village Manager David Lynch said, “Our current meters are so decrepit that the turbines don’t work properly and water flowing into homes and businesses is disappearing from our system. We can’t afford to not replace meters with the automatic meters, which are much more reliable.”

New electric and water meters would generate $458,855 in increased revenue, according to Mark Havens with the Gardiner Group, which is selling the meters to the village.

The other referendum is to overturn making the law director position full time. Effective Nov. 1, the position’s annual salary would go from $53,000 to $55,000 and would include health insurance benefits for a four-year period. When other village employees get raises, Law Director A. Joseph Fritz would also be eligible for pay increases.

Fritz said he already works more than 40 hours per week in his village job.

Lynch said the “nominal $2,000 and health coverage” is “a bargain for us.”

But Luonuansuu, a former village councilman, said, “For the size of our village, we don’t need a full-time law director. Someone has to pay for the increases, even if it’s $2,000.”

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