NORTH CANTON: A proposed agreement heralding a new era of cooperation by avoiding turf battles and annexation hostilities might end up falling one community short of its goal.
North Canton, the fourth and last player in the arena to sign off on a mutual economic development agreement with the city of Canton, and Jackson and Plain townships, has been advised by a Columbus attorney experienced in negotiating such agreements that it would not be in its best interest to participate under the document’s current language.
“Although I commend the City for its interest in cooperation with the townships and Canton, I recommend against entering this agreement,” wrote Christiane W. Schmenk, an attorney with the Columbus law firm Bricker & Eckler. “As a stand-alone document, this Agreement is more aptly characterized as an ‘anti-annexation’ agreement, not an economic development agreement.”
North Canton City Council will meet tonight to discuss the proposal, which has divided city leadership.
The document requires the cities that enter into the compact not to annex certain township properties for a period of 50 years, unless township trustees agree otherwise.
Under the proposal, potential sources of revenue from any future development would include sharing of income taxes. Property taxes, hotel taxes and water revenue would stay with the community in which they are generated.
The Jackson Township property specified in the document — and the reason North Canton Mayor David Held opposes the proposal — is 82 acres of land that has long been a source of contention between the two municipalities. It was the subject of an annexation battle that went to the Ohio Supreme Court in 2007.
The property, inside an area bordered by the Metro Regional Transit Authority railroad tracks and the North Canton boundary line, is the site of the multimillion dollar Cain Toyota-Scion-BMW auto dealership on Whipple Avenue and other businesses.
North Canton sued the city of Canton when that city annexed the railroad property, thereby cutting off the possibility of North Canton annexing that township land.
North Canton lost the case.
Held has maintained he will not sign any agreement that denies a property owner the right to be annexed into the city, or without knowing what the advantages are for North Canton.
“I will not sign an annexation agreement for 100, 50 or 20 years unless there is a specific benefit for the city,” he said in a recent interview.
Jon Snyder, president of North Canton City Council and a supporter of the current proposal, maintains that the Cain property fails to meet the first legal condition necessary for the city to annex it and therefore shouldn’t be the reason to hold up an otherwise beneficial agreement.
“The property is not contiguous to the city,” he said.
Also, the business must agree to the annexation.
“That would be like a hostile takeover — taxation without representation,” Snyder said.
According to the document, new or expanding businesses in the area must agree to become part of a JEDD, and then pay income taxes for employees they aren’t currently paying to the townships.
“Why would they agree to that?” asked Held, who maintains that there is no incentive to agree, short of decreasing water or not constructing new waterlines.
Consequently, North Canton would have to reduce its water revenue as a negotiating tool, the mayor said.
“Over several years, it could end up a net loss for the city,” he said.
Property owners in the area who already receive water from North Canton agreed not to fight annexation attempts when they accepted the city’s water, Held said.
“Signing the [new] document would nullify those agreements,” the mayor contends.
Snyder, however, said there is a possibility the existing water agreements might not stand up in court.
“By not signing [the new proposal], we are depriving 17,000 people [the population of North Canton] from having the ability to regionalize,” he said. “It is a disservice to them.”
Schmenk provided the city with a counter proposal that would change annexation terms. In it, the cities agree only to provide prior written notice and negotiate in good faith for an agreed annexation or to form a JEDD or a zone for joint development before they engage in annexation attempts.
North Canton City Council will vote on both agreements tonight, Snyder said. The council must weigh whether it believes the city stands to gain more for residents in the long run with the original proposal.
“This is an agreement that four municipalities will sit down and negotiate future development and share financial gain as a region,” Snyder said. “We have to begin somewhere.”
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.