By David Skolnick
There is support from city council to change a proposal permitting the administration to seek offers from companies interested in leasing city-owned land for oil and gas drilling, its public utilities committee chairman said.
The proposed change would permit the board of control to receive offers for drilling, but it couldn’t enter into a contract with a company without council’s approval at this time, said Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th and public utilities committee chairman.
The board of control consists of Mayor Charles Sammarone, Finance Director David Bozanich and Law Director Anthony Farris.
Council postponed a vote on the proposal from Sammarone to lease city-owned land for drilling on Sept. 19, making the decision to wait at a finance committee meeting before its full meeting. About 70 people, who oppose the proposal, showed up for that council meeting.
Some council members said they wanted more time to discuss the issue before a vote. Also, some said they wanted a public hearing or meeting before approving the mayor’s proposal. But one hasn’t been held.
Ray said Monday that a public hearing or meeting will take place, but didn’t have a date yet.
Council meets Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., and Ray said its members will likely choose to either:
Vote that day on his proposed change and have a public hearing or meeting before considering whether to permit the board of control to enter into a drilling contract, or
Wait until a public hearing or meeting occurs, and delay the vote until its Oct. 17 meeting.
“Most members of council are interested in hearing from the public,” Ray said. “There is enough support by council to change” the proposal to hold off on the board signing a contract with a company to drill.
Sammarone said he wants to use the money from the city’s drilling rights for residential demolition and neighborhood improvements.
The city needs to demolish about 1,070 vacant houses immediately, and doesn’t have enough money to take down even half of them, Sammarone said. There are about 4,000 to 5,000 vacant houses in the city.
The city has about 300 to 800 acres of land that could be leased for drilling, Bozanich said two weeks ago. Also, the city could receive up to $5,000 an acre plus 20-percent royalties on the drilling, according to Bozanich.
Five of council’s seven members said two weeks ago that they support the mayor’s proposal. For legislation to pass by emergency measure, six council members have to vote in favor of it. If not, legislation can be approved after readings at as many as three meetings by a majority vote.
Also Wednesday, council will consider an ordinance to waive a city tax lien placed on a property at 264 Broadway Ave., which used to be an assisted-living establishment.
The Gatta Co., which owns the downtown Federal Building — which includes apartments, a restaurant and small shops — purchased the property last week for $10,000 and wants to spend about $200,000 to convert it into five apartments, said Dominic L. Gatta III, the company’s owner.
Carrington South Health Care Center Inc. and Robert Van Sickle had a lien of $124,231.46 placed on that property and about five others in 2009 for failing to pay city income taxes on its employees.
Gatta said his company wants to have the city forgive the lien on the property he purchased — the lien is about $20,000 to $25,000.
If the lien is waived, work would start immediately, Gatta said.
Gatta bought the property from ATFH Real Property LLC, a subsidiary of American Tax Funding Services, a company that has purchased several delinquent-tax properties in Mahoning County.