Following an hour-long hearing, Madison County commissioners approved the petition by the Paul J. Flucke Family Trust to have 297 acres of prime real estate annexed into the village of West Jefferson.
It caps a three-month discussion between county, village and township officials about services, primarily fire service to the annexed area in the area known as “The Golden Triangle.”
West Jefferson Village Council in July approved the annexation of the land along Interstate 70 between Byerly Road and the Deercreek Township line with the trust. The trust owns nearly 1,000 acres bordered by the village, Byerly Road and Interstate 70, but is currently seeking annexation of only 297 within Jefferson Township.
Under terms of the agreement, Jefferson Township will provide fire and emergency services to the property once development begins, while the village will extend water and sewer lines to the area. The trust and developers will assume responsibility for constructing internal roads and erecting fire hydrants.
But after council’s approval county commissioners — who are themselves in the process of building a new water treatment facility and water tower near the intersection of U.S. 42 and I-70 — questioned whether the village of West Jefferson has the capacity to handle that much development.
Commissioners also met with Jefferson Township Fire Chief Bill Houk who said the number of runs out to businesses in the area “taxed” his department.
During the conversation, Commissioner Paul Gross called the village’s move to approve the annexation “a breakdown in local government,” a comment West Jefferson mayor Ray Martin took exception with.
In an email to The Press sent during the following days, Tom Hart, the lawyer representing the landowners, fired back. He said this type of annexation favors the landowner’s rights to determine where utility and other services are to come from, what jurisdiction they want to be in.
County commissions are required by law to approve annexations meeting a specific checklist of Ohio law, he said.
Commissioners met with Hart last Monday during an executive session.
This Monday, county prosecutor Steve Pronai cited the case law which served as a precedent. He said because of the decision on this case, the petition could not be successfully challenged in court. He went through a check list of conditions which had to be met by the petitioner. All conditions were met. Commissioners moved to approve the petition for annexation.
“We have no legal reason to deny the annexation,” said Commissioner David Dhume. “We met with the Flucke family and they are in no hurry (to develop).”
Hart said with the passing of the family’s patriarch, his widow and three daughters requested the annexation as a part of preparing the family’s estate. The family farms not only the tract of land in question, but also an additional contiguous tract of approximately 700 acres.
Hart said there is “no big developer” on the horizon. There is time to work with the EPA and fire funding issues, which he described as legitimate issues to be dealt with. He also said there is no development without emergency services.
Fire Chief Houk has concerns over servicing areas which receive abatements, such as Ace Hardware and Restoration Hardware. While he receives some reimbursement for runs made to the commercial areas, in 2013 Houk said the department made 108 runs to the area and received $13,600. That amount is not enough to cover the cost of a fire run, which is about $4,000.
Houk said he has spoken with all the representatives within the service area.
“Everyone is amicable, but we haven’t been able to close the loop,” he said Monday.
Dhume recommended the dialogue the officials be continued.
“We need to be part of the lines of communication,” Dhume said.
In other county business:
• Julia Cumming, soil and water service project coordinator, said a Water Quality Social will be held 6 to 8 p.m., Friday, at the Arrowhead building at Choctaw Lake.
Matt Teeders, county wildlife officer, will hold fishing classes for youngsters and there will be boat rides. It’s an event to display the improvements of water quality which have taken place at the lake.
• Commissioners approved moving forward with a grant application from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to fund a two-year position for a natural resource specialist. They would have to provide $15,000 each of the two years with another matching amount coming from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. That would complete the 50-50 match.
Cumming said the specialist would assist the landowner with various conservation and water quality improvement projects including manure management, filter strip installation and others.
She said it is a competitive grant, but feels Madison County would be in a good position to be the successful grantee. Part of Madison is in the Paint Creek Watershed. It drains into the Mississippi River and the NFWF is eager to protect it and the endangered species within the watershed.
• Weather permitting, seal coating and crack sealing will be held this week on the Prairie Grass bicycle trail from the trail head behind the Madison County Senior Citizen’s Center in London to the Clark County line. With the weather delay on Monday, the reopening day will be pushed back.
• Regarding the proposed security light on Wilson Road as a vandalism deterrent, commissioners learned the utility company would have to erect a transformer to supply proper voltage to the light fixture and that would cost $4,500. So the light, which was projected to cost $12 per month, will not be installed.
Dean Shipley can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617, on Facebook at Dean Shipley or via Twitter @DeanAShipley.