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Niles shuts off power to business

Annexation issue at heart of dispute in Weathersfield

Staff photo / Allie Vugrincic Ann Snyder of Newton Falls, left, and Jerry Clement of Howland with ASAP Sanitary Services hang a sign in the renovated showroom of the former Ralph’s RV on U.S. Route 422 while the electricity is shut off at the building.

WEATHERSFIELD — A business owner found his electric service was shut off Friday afternoon as a result of the ongoing annexation battle between Niles and Weathersfield.

John Ackworth, the owner of ASAP Sanitary, moving into the former Ralph’s RV storefront on U.S. Route 422, said he bought the property because it was in Weathersfield zoning, and he has no intention of annexing into the city of Niles. His new property sits just across the street from Niles and gets electric from the city.

“We’d been approached about this annexation thing when we called to change our utilities over a couple weeks ago,” Ackworth said. “They told us that basically we couldn’t have any utilities unless we would annex over.”

In November, Niles passed legislation requiring contiguous parties using city utilities — including water, sewage and electricity — to annex into the city. Noncontiguous parties or those that choose to remain outside the corporate limit are expected to pay the amount equal to the city income tax that would have been paid if those parties were annexed.

The power was shut off at Ackworth’s property for around two hours Friday after the city claimed it hadn’t received the information needed to transfer the electric account into his name.

While city Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz maintains the city as of Friday did not have the necessary information to transfer utilities, Ackworth said it was provided and the light department was on site Thursday doing a first reading. Mientkiewicz said that was likely a final reading for the former owner. Neither can account for the discrepancy.

Mientkiewicz said the city provided several notifications that the utilities needed to be transferred and warned that the consequence of not switching would be a shutoff.

Ackworth said he didn’t receive notice, and he provided the information to put everything in his name. In a letter provided by Ackworth dated July 15 and addressed to the city of Niles Utilities Department, ASAP notifies the city of the property transfer and the intent to take over utility payments as of July 30.

Mientkiewicz said he had no knowledge of the letter, but utility transfers typically are done in-person or over the phone.

Weathersfield township officials were outraged at the shutoff and said they stand by Ackworth and any businesses that choose not to be annexed.

“What has happened today is an absolute tragedy. It is nothing short of blackmail,” Weathersfield Township Trustee Richard Harkins said.

Weathersfield trustee Marvin McBride called the electric shutoff a “childish setup.”

“Showing leadership like they did today is unnecessary for both communities,” McBride said.

Weathersfield and Howland townships spent the end of 2019 and the first months of this year vocally opposing the annexation efforts. Discussions between the three entities continue with no obvious resolution in sight.

ASAP Sanitary, based in Chardon, provides portable restrooms and septic pumping, among other goods and services. Ackworth, of Canfield, said he wanted to bring the business to the Youngstown area, where he is a native.

He estimates he has approximately $75,000 invested in the new property. He already has renovated the showroom, and he estimates he could have between 10 and 20 people working there within the next 18 months.

“We’re here to bring business to the area and bring jobs, and hopefully grow and flourish,” Ackworth said. He also deemed the electric shutoff “sadly childish and pathetic.”

Mientkiewicz was not clear as to whether utility shutoffs will be a continued strategy to convince new businesses to annex, but said the goal is ultimately to reach an agreement with property owners. He said the business can keep the electricty on until an agreement is worked out.

“As I said before, we are going to look at our contiguous boundaries and try to grow the city,” Mientkiewicz said. He said the city recognizes established businesses that have been using city utilities, but when property transfers happen and new businesses move in, the city does intend to annex or reach a development incentive agreement.

“We look forward to working mutually with this new company in the hopes that they recognize the benefits of being in the city,” Mientkiewicz said of ASAP.

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