Even though some of its members don’t agree with a citizen-organized charter-amendment proposal to ban fracking in Youngstown and the law director contends it isn’t enforceable, city council is expected today to approve an ordinance to place the initiative on the May 7 ballot.
“If you do the petition process correctly, we have no alternative but for council to pass it and send it to the [Mahoning County] Board of Elections,” said Law Director Anthony Farris. “There’s not really an alternative.”
If the ballot initiative is approved, it’s unenforceable, he said.
“It’s in conflict with a field of regulations in which the state has” control, Farris said. “It would be illegal to enforce it.”
But the state attorney general and secretary of state offices have said it still must be on the ballot if the initiative has enough valid signatures despite the legal issue, Farris said.
A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has said several times that the state has complete oversight when it comes to fracking. The state Legislature approved laws nine years ago to take control over drilling from local governments.
Members of Frack Free Mahoning Valley, the organization behind the petitions, has about 3,800 to 4,000 signatures on petitions. The group needs 1,562 valid signatures to get the issue on the May ballot.
Lynn Anderson, one of the citizens involved in the petition process, said Farris “doesn’t understand” the ballot proposal.
“It’s written to circumvent state law,” she said. “It’s like starting over,” comparing what the group calls a “community bill of rights” to the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Other cities — including Niles, Cincinnati, Yellow Springs and Mansfield — already have voted to ban injection wells in their communities.
After council’s vote today, Valencia Marrow, clerk of council, said she’ll give the ordinance and the petitions to the county board of elections. The board will check the signatures on the proposed charter amendment to see if there are enough valid ones.
“I have no doubt we’ll have enough,” Anderson said.
If it gets on the ballot, the lengthy language — 10 sections giving city residents the rights to “pure water,” “clean air,” “a sustainable energy future” and “to be free from toxic trespass,” among others as well as 11 provisions making it unlawful for anyone to frack in the city — will take up a lot of space on the May ballot.
Mayor Charles Sammarone wants the city to have some control over fracking but says the proposed charter amendment isn’t legal if voters approve it.
Also, Sammarone said he opposes the provisions outlawing fracking, saying it is “anti-business,” and “looks like we’re against responsible companies in the oil and gas business.”
If it’s on the ballot and the fracking ban remains, Sammarone said he will campaign against it.
Companies directly or indirectly tied to the oil and gas industry account for at least 20 percent of the money the city collects in income tax, said city Finance Director David Bozanich. The city received $42,471,000 in income-tax revenue last year; 20 percent is nearly $8.5 million.
Without that money, “you’re talking about significant employee cuts,” he said.