Geauga County Commissioners took the final steps last week to approve an annexation of land into Burton Village, but their action sparked further discussion about the cost to taxpayers.
Commissioners approved a series of actions on the annexation of 26 acres that are expected to be developed as a senior citizen housing complex known as Hillside Village.
The actions included approving the withdrawal of an annexation request by Dan Demko, owner of the approximately 40 acres, before approving the annexation. Mr. Demko had made the request in September, anticipating that Burton Township would oppose the issue. But in early December Burton Trustees, Village Council and Mr. Demko reached an agreement on a tax-sharing plan to allow the annexation to go forward unchallenged.
While commissioners gave their approval, Commissioner Timothy Lennon asked why taxpayers were expected to foot the bill for outside legal counsel when a private developer makes such requests.
“It set a precedent with taxpayers paying for a private business,” Mr. Lennon said.
Christine Blair, commissioners’ clerk, said that commissioners had capped the bill at $4,500, although bills are just starting to come in and the cost is still unknown.
Gerald Morgan, county administrator, said normally the Geauga County Prosecutor’s Office would represent commissioners in these type of cases. He said that the prosecutor’s office, which represents townships, had already become involved in the negotiations between the village and township. As the township’s representative early in the process, the prosecutor’s office could no longer serve as commissioner’s representative in the matter of the contested annexation.
Mrs. Blair said laws have been changed that allow commissioners to establish a fee schedule for annexations and other matters. This would permit commissioners to charge a developer a fee to recoup the county’s costs.
Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri said commissioners need to address the matter soon. “We could see a flood of these things and be under water,” he said.
Mr. Blair said annexation requests are uncommon. She estimated that commissioners have seen them only about five times in the past 12 years.
Commissioner James Dvorak said when he served in Burton Township, trustees spent about $300,000 for outside counsel during a fight to stop an asphalt plant from locating in the township. He said trustee chose to go with an outside counsel, believing that a firm specializing in that type of litigation had more expertise in the area than the prosecutor’s office.
Mr. Lennon said taxpayers are expected to pick up the tab when commissioners “weren’t ever the main players” in the matter. He said the taxpayers should not have to pay those costs and commissioners need a way to get reimbursement in such cases.
Mr. Dvorak agreed. “I’m all for a fee structure,” he said.