Niles, neighbors must come to table for talks
It appears Niles officials are making good on their threats to attempt to annex land from Weathersfield into the city.
While we generally have used this space to promote regionalization efforts that can lead to efficiencies in government operations and spending for the good of the entire area, we see the latest efforts by Niles Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz and other city leaders as little more than a bully tactic that, we suspect, will hurt all the governmental entities involved and, more importantly, the businesses and any potential economic growth.
The issue came to a head in recent weeks when a new owner took over a McKinley Heights property only to be greeted with the termination of electricity that had been provided to the former owner by the city of Niles.
The property is located in Weathersfield Township, across U.S. Route 422 from the Niles city line.
Niles had argued in order to purchase electricity from the city, the new business owner would have to commit to annexation.
The Niles mayor has been clear in his motivations.
“As I said before, we are going to look at our contiguous boundaries and try to grow the city,” Mientkiewicz told our reporter. 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.
The city of Niles last year passed legislation requiring annexation of properties outside the city that utilize city utilities or risk losing reasonable utility rates.
Sadly, this scenario is the opposite of the definition of regionalization and economic development.
It’s likely when faced with the neighbor disputes and the choice of forced annexation or higher utility costs, businesses considering relocating to the area will opt for other, less contentious locations.
Residents and businesses in neighboring Howland and Weathersfield townships reacted in the days and weeks following the McKinley Heights incident by reaching out to their local government officials seeking ways to combat Niles’ attempted takeover.
Howland Trustee Chairman Matt Vansuch said trustees have even more concerns, now dealing with a development incentive agreement Niles may use to attempt to collect fees from outside residents and businesses using its utilities.
Under the agreement, Vansuch said Niles would allow noncity residents receiving city utilities to pay an incentive fee but not be forced to annex.
According to Vansuch, that is simply wrong.
“This is asking people to pay for the privilege of not being annexed in the amount of $47 per month, which is a tax to be used for any city expense. We do not believe this tax on nonresidents who don’t live or don’t work in the city is right or legal,” Vansuch said.
Township officials are pointing out that many years ago Niles made the choice to lay utility lines for customers in neighboring townships without requiring those new customers to have to annex into the city. Those nonresident users pay more than the residents and enjoy the same utility service, Vansuch said.
Newer Howland businesses and residents know they pay more than city residents do for utilities, but they do not pay Niles income tax.
At the end of the day, the move is going to trigger more than bad feelings between neighbors.
Vansuch called Niles’ efforts “wrong, unconscionable and illegal,” and threatened to fight any annexation attempt in court. Weathersfield and Howland officials already have hired legal counsel to fight the annexation efforts.
To borrow the words of Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka, “A divided community will fall.”
Niles is wrong in its attempt to force annexation, especially after having conducted business harmoniously with these neighbors for decades.
The matter needs to be settled with all sides coming to the table for open and transparent talks.
Without such a resolution, it’s likely that legal costs will skyrocket leaving all the taxpayers in these communities footing the bill.