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Niles might be the big loser in annexation fight

Regarding the possibility of property owners in Howland and Weathersfield townships considering flipping the switch on their electricity provider, we say more power to them.

More than 70 Howland Township residents who purchase their electricity from the city of Niles told trustees in a recent survey that they would prefer to switch providers, likely to Ohio Edison.

Trustees intend to continue the survey. Weathersfield Township residents who buy electricity from Niles also are considering a switch to Ohio Edison.

These discussions come on the heels of an ordinance pushed by Niles Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz and approved by Niles City Council making annexation into the city mandatory for any business or resident needing to utilize city services.

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 these efforts by Niles and other city leaders as little more than a bully tactic that, in the end, will come back to bite them.

As we see it, this scenario is the opposite of the definition of regionalization and economic development. Worse, it probably also will paint an ugly picture for residents or businesses considering a relocation into any of these areas in dispute.

According to Howland Trustee James LaPolla, about 25 percent of Howland Township’s 4,800 households get their electricity from Niles. About $1.5 million per year from Howland residents goes to Niles for electricity.

Weathersfield Trustee Steve Gerberry also has noted that residents and businesses in his township do not prefer to annex to Niles. Officials said the majority of Weathersfield residents already have Ohio Edison, but those who have Niles power are mostly in the McKinley Heights area. Gerberry said this month that he is aware of one resident in the McKinley Heights area who already has switched providers.

“I know there are some businesses along the (U.S.) Route 422 corridor who have expressed interest and in McKinley Heights,” he said.

He said a list is being compiled at the township administration building from those who are interested in changing.

“A lot of this is to keep our township identity,” Gerberry said.

The township is working with Ohio Edison / FirstEnergy about how to best accomplish this on a large scale.

Likewise, now that annexation is on the table, Howland is working with Ohio Edison to get Howland residents and businesses a new power source so they can avoid the annexation or the tax Niles would add if the owners refuse annexation.

Until now, residents in Howland and Weathersfield have worked well with Niles by purchasing Niles power, willingly paying a higher rate than city residents pay. Many years ago Niles made the choice to lay utility lines for customers in neighboring townships without requiring those new customers to annex into the city. Those nonresident users pay more than the residents and enjoy the same utility service.

This new effort is unfair and Niles should reconsider the forced annexation legislation. Otherwise, we suspect it will be Niles that will lose in the long run if these communities work quickly to switch utility services from Niles to Ohio Edison.

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