By Ed Runyan
At noon Aug. 23, the Trumbull County commissioners will meet to review the newest application by Newton Falls for annexation of 445 acres in Braceville and Newton townships near state Route 5 and the Ohio Turnpike.
But county Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa says the commissioners have not decided whether it will be open to the attorneys for the interested parties to argue their case to the commissioners like they did in February.
The commissioners rejected the annexation that time.
The commissioners have until about Aug. 24 to decide whether to approve the annexation, according to the guidelines in Ohio law.
Last week, the commissioners hired Thomas Carey of Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell to provide the commissioners with a legal opinion on whether the newest application meets legal requirements. Carey will be paid up to $5,000.
Carey told the commissioners in February the first application raised two significant issues.
One was whether the Ohio Turnpike Commission and CSX railroad should have signed the petition. The other was whether the annexation would have created an “island” of township property completely surrounded by the territory of the annexation.
Newton Falls officials have said the newest application includes agreements with CSX and the Ohio Turnpike Commission and eliminates the island Carey talked about by eliminating three properties.
The proposal still involves the same property owners as last time, and its goal is still the same as before – to encourage commercial development of the area near the turnpike by providing city services.
Newton Falls Village Council approved a resolution in July specifying the property owners in the proposed annexation area would receive these services from the village: police protection, street maintenance, ice and snow removal and storm-water removal.
“Water and sewer may be available at owner’s expense,” the resolution says.
Though the county commissioners had a formal meeting in February to hear input from Carey and representatives from Braceville and Newton townships, Paulette Godfrey, county commissioners clerk and interim county administrator, said Ohio law governing such annexations does not require a public meeting before the commissioners make a decision.
Meanwhile, Braceville and Newton township trustees have approved resolutions again opposing the proposed annexation and delivered them to the county commissioners.
Braceville Township’s resolution says the annexation would be bad for the township and fails to meet legal requirements.
The township says the annexation documents Newton Falls filed repeatedly refer to Newton Falls as a city, when research by the township’s attorney, Alfred Shrader, shows that it has been a village for several years.
“The entire annexation petition is inaccurate ... as it refers to the Village of the City of Newton Falls and not the Village of Newton Falls,” Braceville Township said.
“Each annexation petitioner has asked to be annexed to the nonexistent Village of the City of Newton Falls and not to the Village of Newton Falls,” the township said.
Newton Falls became a village when its population dropped below 5,000 people last decade. It currently has about 4,600 people but had 4,795 in 2010 and 5,002 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Braceville trustees also allege the annexation petition contains illegible signatures from people who say they are property owners in the proposed annexation area. The township also questions whether the people who signed are authorized to do so by the property owner.
The township also alleges the annexation would create road-maintenance problems because state Route 5, Ravenna-Warren Road, Newton Falls Braceville Road and the Ohio Turnpike would be divided along a center line or otherwise segmented between a village and a township.
A Newton Falls Village Council resolution on the annexation says Newton Falls will “assume the maintenance of any street or highway or otherwise correct the problem” if any such problem occurs.
Newton Township, which also hired an attorney, repeated many of the Braceville Township arguments in its resolution.