COLUMBUS - A legal battle may delay Ohio's new annexation law from taking effect for months.
And, it remains unclear whether voters will be able to vote on the issue in November.
Backers of the law say it will slow some annexations, but it should encourage negotiations between municipalities and townships to prevent bitter clashes.
Critics say it will restrict development and damage efforts by township property owners to sell their land to developers.
The law was to take effect Oct. 26, but it was put on hold as a group of municipal leaders dubbed “No on State Control of Property Rights” committee circulated petitions to put a referendum on the ballot next year to repeal the law.
On Dec. 5, the Secretary of State's office said the group was short by 63,558 signatures of registered voters.
To trigger a referendum, the group must collect at least 201,253 signatures.
Opponents of the annexation regulations also must have signatures of at least 3 percent of those who voted in the 1998 governor's race in 44 of the state's 88 counties. The petition drive met that mandate in only 14 counties, the Secretary of State's office said.
Yesterday was the deadline for the municipal group to resubmit its petitions, but a Franklin County judge has frozen that deadline, pending a court challenge that will be heard Feb. 1.
The municipal group has filed lawsuits in five counties including Hancock, challenging pages of signatures that were not counted because circulators failed to fill out a statement disclosing how much they were paid. The cases have been consolidated in Franklin County.
The chief supporter of the law - the Ohio Township Association - has filed suit with the Ohio Supreme Court, alleging the Secretary of State's office should not have accepted the petitions that the municipal group submitted.