Scio’s annexation bid called a ‘shakedown’ as public hearing gets dicey

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Harrison News-Herald Photo/JD LONG

CADIZ—A long and arduous public hearing over Scio’s wish to annex land, which targets the Williams fractionation plant, took place Friday inside the Harrison County Common Pleas courtroom. The meeting lasted for more than three hours as attorneys for Scio and the Utica East Williams plant represented their respective clients — but at times, they came with harsh words. 

The hearing was conducted almost like a trial, including opening and closing arguments. While the hearing seemed to go mostly smoothly, it wasn’t long before Utica attorney Joseph Miller went on the offensive, accusing Scio’s council of shaking down the Utica plant in the name of tax dollars.

“Frankly, and I don’t say this lightly, this process is being used to shake down my client,” Miller said, warning the village they could be setting themselves up for liability issues. Miller called the attempt to annex the more than 700 acres of land “illegal” while citing the Ohio Revised Code.

One of the issues Miller raised was that land targeted for the annexation is divided into two parts by Crimm Road, which he said should be separate petitions. Miller also added that the land is too large for annexation; Scio attorney Jim Mattews said this was untrue.

It was also revealed that a $250,000 offer for 10 years was made to the village just days before the hearing, according to Scio village administrator Jason Tubaugh. Council member Andrew Turner, and Scio’s chairperson for land and business, was present and stated there was no offer made at the private meeting.

According to Tubaugh, the $250,000 was intended to be a one-time payment over 10 years, not per year, and came to him later in a text. But Director of Operations Stephen Furbacher stated by phone this week the figures offered by Williams were a per-year payment.

The offer came via text message from Williams Director of State and Local Government Affairs Kino Becton and included an initial sum of $200,000 over 10 years. What was rejected was Tubaugh’s counteroffer of $250,000 “annually for the life of the plant.” 

“[We] would be willing to do 250k over a 10-year period to help support you all but not your counteroffer,” Becton explained, referring to the lifetime payments per year.

The meeting, according to Tubaugh, was initiated by Williams where they asked, “What can they do to make this go away.” The quotes came from Tubaugh. 

More disagreements arose over the relationship between Scio and the plant; Scio council members have stated in the past that there is no relationship but also asserted they have attempted to communicate with Utica’s people.

“I wasn’t privy to those communications if they occurred,” Miller said, referring to claims that Scio had reached out to Utica in the past two years of Williams’s ownership. “But I will tell you that the Williams Company has acted as a very good partner to North Township and remains well and engaged with the village of Scio, and they shouldn’t be rushing headlong down this legal process where they haven’t even met the statutory requirements.”

“The best evidence of that is they never even approached us before embarking on this annexation,” Miller explained. “We showed prior to today’s hearing that we’re willing to sit down with them and talk with them,” then he referred to the “great partnership” with North Township. When told of that remark about Utica’s relationship with the township, Turner laughed, stating Scio provides utilities to the plant, not North Township.

“They don’t have a relationship with the township because the township doesn’t provide them with any services,” Turner explained. He also took offense to the word “shakedown” used by Miller on more than one occasion, and he wasn’t alone. Council member Robert Clark stood before the commissioners and fired back: “I’m offended that they said that’s an extortion.” He also used Miller’s comments against him where Miller stated Utica runs 120 trucks per day, but Clark seized the advantage telling the commissioners, “That’s what’s killing our infrastructure.” 

“They pay no income tax. They pay no taxes to the village of Scio,” Clark said. He also took exception to sheriff Joe Myers speaking out against annexation during Utica’s time and not during the public speaking time. Later, commissioner Don Bethel asked Myers if he was speaking as sheriff or as a citizen. And Meyers replied: “both.” Myers wasn’t the only one; he was joined by Scio fire chief Roger Bethel and county engineer Doug Bachman also speaking against annexation. 

Harrison County Economic Development director Nick Homrighausen spoke in favor of both sides getting together to work out their differences, and commissioner Bethel adamantly agreed. After a short recess, Bethel revisited his statements and said he was not making a decision in support of anyone’s stance but only in support of both sides getting together.

Miller also posited that Scio would not be able to provide utilities for the large amount of acreage in the annexed areas. Other arguments flew, too, including plant employees being hurt by taxes and North Township being left out if annexation succeeds. 

However, Scio’s representing attorney Matthews stated Scio council would not exclude the township from receiving taxes due to annexation. He said Williams’s complaints were all anecdotal, and there’s no shakedown and nothing illegal regarding Scio’s wishes. 

“It came from out of the blue, supported by absolutely nothing,” Matthews said, referring to the shakedown comment. “This is a statutory process that a municipality is permitted to go through as a matter of law.”

The commissioners have 30 days to make a decision, and it must be announced via the passing of a resolution.

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