City Council will continue debating a proposed agreement with OMNI Orthopaedics that would allow the business to purchase city water without annexing into the city.

NORTH CANTON  City Council will continue debating a proposed agreement with OMNI Orthopaedics that would allow the business to purchase city water without annexing into the city.

At a special meeting Wednesday, Council adopted a first reading of an ordinance accepting the agreement. The agreement was placed on the agenda as an emergency, meaning council could pass the legislation after a first reading instead of the requisite three.

The agreement was introduced at Monday's committee meeting, where it was hotly debated by council members and city officials. Mayor David J Held Monday indicated during that discussion that he may veto council's 'yes' vote.

Residents also voiced concerns Wednesday that the public wasn't given enough time to weigh-in on the issue.

"I don't think we should be putting this on emergency for the respect of where we are right now... We have to do what we have to do to make things right and I think really be respectful of this," said Councilman Mark Cerreta, at-large.

Agreement

OMNI is considering building a new $10 million medical and surgical center near Whipple Avenue NW and Portage Street NW in Jackson Township on the North Canton border. The 30-year agreement would allow the company to purchase city water — OMNI would pay outside water rates and tap-in fees — without annexing into the city.

Provisions that would have extended the agreement to any subsequent owner of OMNI or the property were removed before Wednesday's vote.

 

The agreement would make OMNI one of the city's largest water customers, bringing in about $12,000 a year.

It also would be the first time the city agreed to sell utilities without an annexation clause.

Last year, council passed legislation removing the annexation requirement for buying city water or sewer services. That legislation also established a four-member Water Board to negotiate outside water and sewer rates.

Proponents have argued that annexation clauses are largely unenforceable.

In December, the Water Board approved an agreement with Willmoll Development for the 6-acre plot OMNI is considering.

Without city water, OMNI could choose to build a well on the site or locate the new center elsewhere.

Debate

The sometimes heated discussion continued Wednesday.

The OMNI agreement has been under discussion for nine months and those speaking against it didn't voice those concerns until Monday night, Cerreta said, adding that it was "a little bit disrespectful to those involved and those on this council to put the pressure on them you did."

"That's not what the people want here, the drama we're seeing right here," he said. "People want things done right and done in the right way. And I think we're doing that with this."

OMNI and elected officials spoke again before Wednesday's meeting. Officials again tried to negotiate a deal that included annexation, he said.

"We offered them everything, but they respectfully said no," Cerreta said, adding that the company made it clear from the beginning they would not annex.

Cerreta argued that the agreement will bring in funds equivalent to an $800,000 business — similar to putting 32 jobs on Main Street. It also will revitalize a blighted area, bringing the city more opportunities in the future.

Waiving the annexation clause won't be standard practice and the city will make future decisions on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Held argued that the city has to make every decision based on whether it creates jobs or allows the city to offer more cost-effective or efficient services.

Municipalities use water rights to expand their tax base. "Those are the rules," he said.

City safety services such as police, fire and EMS are funded through income and property tax, not water revenue, Held said.

 "I don't want drama. I want facts," he said.

"We always have to be able to examine and reexamine our decisions. So I'm asking all council members just to give me reasonable items as to why we wouldn't require a company that wants our water... To pay income tax?"

Developers have the upper hand in economic development because they know exactly what they want, but city officials don't, he said. "We hear a lot of things swirl around and you know what happens? The community gets hosed because we don't know what we're doing. We just go off what one person said or another."

"I'm not trying to sound self-righteous. It's because I've made these mistakes. I've made them. I've made a lot of them over the years," he said.

Councilman Daryl Revoldt, at-large, voted against the first reading.

The city should focus on grabbing and holding on to the 6-acre site. If OMNI doesn't build there, someone else will, and if that property is in the city, it will bring taxable jobs, Revoldt said.

Council is on spring break next week. They will have a second vote on the agreement at its meeting April 9.

Reach Jessica at 330-580-8322 or jessica.holbrook@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @jholbrookREP.