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Petitions could put annexation on state ballot

COLUMBUS - Voters, not lawmakers, may have the final say on an overhaul of state annexation law that was more than a decade in the making.

Opponents of the law filed petitions yesterday with the Ohio Secretary of State's office to place a referendum for its repeal on the ballot next year (Nov. 5, 2002).

The maneuver prevents the law, which gives counties and townships greater clout when it comes to annexation of land by cities and villages, from going into effect as scheduled today.

“This is an economic development issue. It deals with jobs,” said Tiffin Mayor Bernard Hohman, among the municipal leaders making up the “No on State Control of Property Rights” political committee.

“[Cities] are the ones who provide the services for the economic development that provides jobs for people,” he said. “We're best equipped to do that. If we don't have the ability for that area [outside city boundaries] to become part of the city, city council may be less interested in providing those services, and I don't blame them.”

The petitions must bear at least 201,253 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters, the equivalent of 6 percent of the votes cast in the 1998 gubernatorial election. The signatures must be spread over at least 44 Ohio counties.

The papers filed yesterday purport to carry 231,829 signatures, but an official count won't be available until after county election boards have verified the signatures. Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, said the petitions won't be sent to county boards until after the Nov. 6 election.

If the petitions come up short of valid signatures, the committee will be given an additional 10 days to fill the gap.

A coalition that supports the annexation law plans to challenge petitions and signatures before county election boards, arguing, in part, that circulators failed to fully disclose required information to signers and that the circulators provided false information about the law to convince people to sign.

“We will take whatever action is necessary to ensure that the Ohio Constitution and the Ohio Revised Code are complied with, particularly in this case since the taxpayers paid for it,” said Jack Greg Haught, attorney for Ohioans for Fair Annexation.

A group of taxpayers filed the suit in Fairfield County Court seeking the return of more than $20,000 in public funds spent by the city of Pickerington in garnering petition signatures on behalf of the repeal effort.

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