Kathy Antoniotti

NEW FRANKLIN: On any warm, sunny weekend, the population of Summit County’s youngest city swells by 5,000 to 10,000 people who come to enjoy the Akron area’s summer playground.

And that’s a good thing, New Franklin Mayor Al Bollas said, referring to the five lakes in the Portage Lakes chain situated in New Franklin.

“Most of our income comes from tourism,” he said. “The day of the Portage Lakes fireworks is the biggest day for the economy.”

Fireworks, provided by the private Portage Lakes Fireworks Association, are part of every Fourth of July celebration on “The Lakes.” The celebration draws as many as 50,000 visitors each year to the eating and drinking establishments and boat marinas that line the 13 lakes in the chain.

In 1997, the village of New Franklin was incorporated from a section of Franklin Township to thwart annexation attempts from Barberton, Green and Norton. New Franklin expanded when township and village voters approved a merger of the two. The village officially became a city March 5, 2006.

Bollas, who served as mayor of the village beginning in 2005 and was a township trustee before that, said tourism benefits can be a two-sided sword. While the restaurants and bars beckon boaters to enjoy themselves, alcohol consumption can lead to problems for the city’s safety forces. People behaving badly was the reason he authorized signs that admonished visitors to “Behave” as they entered the city limits during warm-weather months.

Bollas keeps one of the signs, which for years were erected prior to boating season, propped up against the wall of his office.

“We had people stop their cars and back up to take pictures of the sign,” he said.

Economic development

The city has only five vacant commercial or retail buildings and one large industrial site, Bollas said.

Officials are hoping a 45,000-square-foot building that formerly housed Manchester Tool will get a new owner in 2012. The tool maker on Manchester Road closed in December 2008.

Bollas said an employee of Kennametal Inc., in Latrobe, Pa., owner of the building, told him about two weeks ago the price had been reduced from $1.1 million to $700,000. The city receives about one inquiry a month regarding the building, and the mayor said he is actively looking for a new business to move in.

Streets, utilities

The Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study governing board in 2008 approved $1.7 million in federal funding for a $2 million Ohio Department of Transportation project to widen and add turn lanes to state Route 93 (Manchester Road) and state Route 619 (West Turkeyfoot Road), Bollas said.

The city will begin land acquisition for the project this year with construction to begin in 2013. It is expected to be completed in 2014. New Franklin’s share for the project is $300,000, which already has been paid, the mayor said.

“This community does not owe a dime to anybody. Even our fire trucks are all paid for in cash,” he said.

The city also has budgeted $500,000 for resurfacing in 2012, but Bollas did not identify the roads scheduled for upgrades.

Parks, recreation

The city’s six parks are well kept and popular with residents, thanks in large part to the fact that 5 percent of income taxes the city collects each year automatically goes to the upkeep of the park system, Bollas said.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources deeded the 20-room, Tudor-style home and its 5.3 acres of land adjacent to Portage State Park to the city in 2010. The annual Boating and Fishing Expo, which raises funds to maintain the 1930s-era mansion and property, will be June 1-2 this year.

Safety forces

The city has been able to maintain a full roster of safety forces, Bollas said.

In 2012, the fire department will be upgrading pagers and purchasing cardiac monitors and defibrillators with a $152,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The grant calls for a 5 percent match by the fire department, Fire Chief Perry Surgeon said.

The department also will be looking at ways to improve its Insurance Service Office rating this year in an attempt to reduce homeowner’s premiums, the chief said.

Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.