Levy suit progressing in Lake Township

By Nancy Molnar

LAKE TWP.: Attorneys representing various parties are to submit written arguments by Monday to the Ohio Supreme Court in a lawsuit over a Lake Township police levy.

Township trustees and a citizens group are appealing the Jan. 25 decision by Stark County Common Pleas Judge John Haas that overturned passage of a continuing 4.5-mill police levy because of a ballot error.

Language on the Nov. 6 ballot understated the cost of the levy by a factor of 10, saying it would cost 45 cents per $1,000 of property valuation.

The office of Stark County Prosecutor John Ferrero is representing township trustees in the appeal.

On the same side of the issue is Citizens in Support of Township Police, chaired by Robert A. Moss, who was treasurer of the levy campaign committee. Canton attorney Charles Hall III, who also is the township trustees’ legal adviser, is representing the citizens group.

Citizens contesting the election, led by Greentown Auto & Truck Parts owner James Miller, are represented by North Canton attorneys Melvin Lute and Eric Stecz, as well as Michael Grady of Lake Township.

Grady is a Republican candidate for county prosecutor.

After initial arguments are filed, each side will have 10 days to respond, taking the time for written argument to March 29.

The state’s high court normally takes four to six months to decide, but a court spokesman said this case might be expedited because it concerns an election.

During the appeal, the Lake Township Police Department continues to serve the entire township. It was known as the Uniontown Police Department when its taxing authority was limited to nine square miles in the northwest corner of the township.

Property owners in the entire township are paying the new levy.

Vote on Lake Township police levy continues to divide community

By Nancy Molnar
Special to the Beacon Journal

greentown BarberLAKE TWP.: Imagine walking into the voting booth and facing this option: You can vote for a service and still lower your taxes.

That’s what some Uniontown police district residents did Nov. 8, when they voted to expand their Uniontown Police Department and its tax base to the remainder of Lake Township, including the area’s other unincorporated community of Greentown.

The 4.5-mill permanent tax replaced 6.7 mills. It passed in 10 of the 11 precincts in the former Uniontown police district.

It failed in all 11 precincts in the remainder of the township.

“I would certainly, if I was in Uniontown, I would vote for it,” said Charles Heisroth of Spur Circle. “I don’t think I’ve ever voted to lower my tax.

“So why wouldn’t they vote for the police levy? I don’t think that’s very fair.”

Heisroth estimated his taxes will rise by $160 to $200 a year.

“But I’ll still be paying for the sheriff of the county and I’ll be paying for the Uniontown Police Department,” said Heisroth, 73, who has lived in the township for 46 years.

The status of the tax is in the hands of the Ohio Supreme Court, following a ruling from Stark County Common Pleas Judge John Haas that invalidated the election result on the basis of a ballot error. The mistake understated the cost of the tax by a factor of 10.

Last month, Haas continued an order allowing the Lake Township Police Department to patrol the entire township until a status and appeal hearing April 9.

Among those supporting the expansion of the Uniontown police district to the rest of the township was Howard R. Miller Jr., whose HRM Enterprises Inc. owns the Hartville MarketPlace shops and flea market, Hartville Kitchen restaurant and Hartville Hardware store.

Miller was the largest contributor to Citizens for Lake Township Police, the campaign committee that supported expanding the Uniontown Police Department to township-wide coverage. He gave $7,500.

That amount raises questions for Michael Grady, a Republican candidate for county prosecutor and one of three attorneys working to have the court invalidate the police levy’s passage based on the ballot error.

“You seldom would see anybody dishing that kind of money into an issue,” Grady said. “Was this about public safety, or was this about return on investment?”

Miller said he did know how much of a difference the expansion of the Uniontown Police District would make in his taxes.

“We are pleased with the Uniontown police service that we have received and they were in favor of this, so we wanted to support them,” Miller said in an email.

Miller’s businesses, along West Maple Street (state Route 619), are equal parts tourist attraction and staples of local life.

His new hardware store, being built by township Trustee Ellis Erb, will be a 245,000-square-foot, two-story building west of its current location.

Stark County Building Department records show an estimated construction cost of $13.3 million. If that building is taxed for police services at the new Lake Township rate of 4.5 mills, it would cost $10,532 less annually than if it is taxed at the 6.7-mill rate of the old Uniontown police district, which covered only 9 square miles in the northwest section of the township that borders southern Summit County.

The difference in taxes represents 2.6 percent of Miller’s total property tax bill of $404,992 for this year, an increase from last year’s $401,106.

Aside from Miller, most other police levy campaign contributors were township officials. Giving $1,000 each were Erb’s construction business, Trustee Galen Stoll and the businesses of Trustee John Arnold and township Fiscal Officer Ben Sommers.

Erb said the need for police to address crime throughout the township caused him to support the issue, even though it increased his property taxes because most of his holdings are outside Uniontown.

He said emergency medical services were among the leading proponents of a township-wide police service.

“It makes their job safer,” Erb said. “They get a suicide, or they get a young kid that’s high on drugs and he’s got a gun.

“What is a poor mother supposed to do? And this happens. I mean, this is not just one incident.”

Resident annoyed

To Russell “Rusty” McCoy, a barber in Greentown, the Uniontown Police Department, with its Special Response Team and Humvees, is more than the area needs.

“Greentown is a lot like Mayberry,” he said. “It really is. You just don’t go into Mayberry and tell Andy and Barney that, ‘Oh, by the way, you need all this extra protection,’ when all they’re doing is catching a few chicken thieves.”

He is irked that township officials are pressing to have the new police tax validated in court despite the ballot error.

“It just seems like it is taxation with misrepresentation,” said McCoy, 50, a U.S. Navy veteran who also works as a parking-garage assistant manager.

Like some others in Greentown, he would have preferred township trustees consider hiring the Stark County Sheriff’s Office for extra patrols.

Neighboring Plain Township has a 2.25-mill property tax for that purpose.

“The fact is they wouldn’t even entertain speaking to the sheriff’s department,” said Grady, the attorney who is working pro bono for citizens opposing the levy. “That’s what I found somewhat disturbing, particularly after this issue had been voted on twice before.”

Similar issues to the one now being contested failed in 2005 and 1998.

Trustee supports issue

Erb said the area has not had good service from the sheriff.

The office of Sheriff Timothy Swanson was at a low point in 2011, when the Lake police levy appeared on the ballot, due to a shortage of county funding. He since has rehired staff due to the passage of a sales tax in the same Nov. 8 election.

Erb said deputies would waste time driving to and from their headquarters in Canton. Further, the sheriff’s offer to provide enhanced service for $1.85 million a year did not include cruisers. He said he would prefer to stick with the plan for a township police service supported by $2.59 million from the levy.

“If we get turned down by the Supreme Court, well, so be it. We’ll put it on the fall ballot again,” Erb said. “If you stop and think, the majority of the people voted for it.”

Nancy Molnar can be emailed at nancymolnar2002@yahoo.com.

Lake Township trustees meeting of March 12

By Mary Ann Kannam

LAKE TWP. —KEY ACTION  Agreed to own and manage East Nimishillen Cemetery.

DISCUSSION  The East Nimishillen Cemetery Association is transferring ownership and control of the cemetery to the trustees because of a shortage of volunteers to operate the property.

OTHER ACTION  

• Trustee John Arnold told resident Don Williamson he will contact Lake Local Schools Superintendent Jeff Wendorf about Williamson’s concerns about the removal of a barricade from Lisa Avenue NW. The barricade was removed from the property owned by the school district to alleviate traffic during a road improvement project. Residents believed the change was temporary. Since the completion of the project, the street remains open. Arnold asked Williamson to gather signatures from neighbors who agree that drivers are cutting through their neighborhood near Lisa Avenue to avoid traffic lights.

• Authorized spending up to $8,835 to buy 15,000 pounds of asphalt sealant from DJL Material of Akron for the Road Department.

• Increased the employees’ share of medical insurance premiums from 6.8 percent to 10 percent and accepted the pay scales for all nonbargaining employees of the Road Department and administrative offices.

• Said a decision is expected in May about the trustees’ appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court involving the overturned election results of a levy that passed Nov. 8 to expand the Uniontown Police Department to become the Lake Township Police Department.

UP NEXT  Meet at 6:30 p.m. March 26 at Township Hall.

Crossing upgrades advance in Lake Township, Ohio and Washington

The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) plans to hold a public meeting on Thursday to solicit comments on potential improvements to three crossings along the Charlotte rail corridor in West Charlotte.

A study conducted in conjunction with STV/Ralph Whitehead Associates might recommend closing some of the crossings, NCDOT officials said in a meeting notice.

Railroad-lights-gatesMeanwhile, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) approved authorization from the Ohio Rail Development Commission directing CSX Transportation to install flashing lights and gates at two crossings in Lake Township and Middleton Township.

Funding will be covered by federal dollars. CSXT must complete the upgrades by Nov. 14, according to PUCO.

In addition, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) approved a plan to provide the Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad $20,000 from the Grade Crossing Protective Fund to upgrade warning signals at a crossing in Aberdeen.

The railroad will replace the spur track crossing surface with a concrete surface, install new underground cable, upgrade the flashing lights to light-emitting diode lights and convert train detection equipment to a constant warning system. The work must be completed by Dec. 30, according to the UTC.

Lake police to stay on job, for now

uniontown-police-officerThe Lake Township Police Department will continue patrolling the community at least until April, according to an order issued Tuesday.

Stark County Common Pleas Court Judge John G. Haas continued an order he issued in January, making a ruling that overturns results of the Nov. 8 election, when voters narrowly approved a levy creating the police department.

A hearing to review the status of the appeal and the stay has been set for April 9.

Haas’ decision has been appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. Because the ruling deals with an election, the court will review the case. Lake Township trustees and a citizens group that supported the levy filed the appeal.

In November, voters approved a 4.5-mill levy to create a police agency to serve the township. Plans were to have the Uniontown Police Department become a townshipwide department.

Opponents filed a lawsuit because the ballot incorrectly stated the tax would cost 45 cents per $1,000 of valuation, instead of the correct $4.50 per $1,000.

Stark County reviews Lake Twp. levy error

By Nancy Molnar

Uniontown Police LevyCANTON: A state official alerted the Stark County Board of Elections in July about flawed ballot language in a Lake Township police levy that was approved in November but successfully challenged in court.

Gretchen Quinn, elections counsel for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, pinpointed the error in the statement about the cost of the levy that caused Common Pleas Judge John G. Haas to void the election results Wednesday.

“(B)allot language states tax will be levied ‘at a rate not exceeding four and one-half (4.50) mills per dollar of taxable valuation, which amounts to forty-five cents per one thousand dollars in taxable valuation.

“A 4.5 mill levy yields $0.45 per $100, but $4.50 per $1,000,’’ she continued in a handwritten note. “BOE may want to confirm millage with taxing authority.”

The July 27 communication to an election board employee included approved ballot language reflecting the correct cost.

What happened after that is in dispute.

Jeffrey Matthews, deputy director of the county board of elections, said an elections worker said she told township attorney Charles D. Hall III about the problem over the phone.

“That did not happen,” Hall said Monday.

He said township officials first learned of the matter when Uniontown police Chief Harold Britt went to the board of elections to get a list of township voters. The information then was relayed to township Fiscal Officer Ben Sommers on Oct. 13. Sommers then told Hall.

But by then absentee ballots already had been mailed and others had been prepared.

Hall said local elections officials missed the chance to attach the memo from the Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 25, when Stark elections Director Jeannette Mullane sent the township a notice saying the police levy would be Issue 6 on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The letter, received at the township office Aug. 26, says in part, “You will receive a copy of the ballot language once it is approved by the Ohio Secretary of State.”

“If that attachment had been delivered to the Board of Lake Township Trustees on Aug. 25, the Lake Township Board of Trustees would still have had the opportunity to correct the ballot language,” Hall said.

Matthews acknowledged the mistake in the ballot wording should have been communicated to the township in writing.

“It’s clear there were errors made in procedure, but ultimately what was submitted to the voters matched the resolution that was passed by the township trustees,” Matthews said.

A similar mistake recently occurred in ballot language Hall submitted to the Board of Elections for Perry Township, where he serves as law director.

The resolution to put the issue in the March primary election said the 0.5-mill police renewal levy would cost 50 cents for each $100 of property valuation.

Matthews and Mullane sent a letter to Hall on Dec. 21, telling him, “One-half mill should be five cents for each one hundred dollars of valuation.”

Hall said he fixed the error promptly, as he would have done if notified in a timely manner of the problem in Lake.

Lake Township trustees are appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court the ruling that negated the results of the November police levy vote. The county Board of Elections decided Monday not to join the appeal.

The ballot issue expanded the territory and taxing authority of the former Uniontown Police Department to all parts of Lake Township not served by the Hartville Police Department.

Judge Haas’ order has been stayed by Stark County Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione, and Lake Township police cruisers are still patrolling the newly created district.

Erick Howard sentenced to 30 years in prison

erik_howrd_sentenced_30_yearsCANTON —With no one else to blame, Erick M. Howard stood in court before his family and his victims in a jail jumpsuit, his hands and feet in chains.

He was a 20-year-old man who fought for his innocence and lost, he said. Facing decades in prison, he could only beg for mercy.

“The decisions that I made, the people I put around myself, the actions that … I made is why I’m here today,” Howard said Tuesday in Stark County Common Pleas Court, where he was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted of a home-invasion robbery and rape.

Once Ohio’s two-time Mr. Football at Hoover High School in North Canton, Howard is now a felon and a life-time sex offender.

He felt bad for what happened to the victims and everyone who was affected, he said. He asked for the chance to be free before his two young children are “grown and gone.”

“…Don’t be mad at anyone but me because I decided to sell drugs,” he said. “I decided to get involved in that kind of life when I came back from school. It’s all been my choice.”

Judge Taryn L. Heath had words of her own while handing down a sentence that more than doubled the 12-year offer Howard turned down before his trial.

Howard showed “no moral compass for his behavior” when he didn’t stop at robbing the victims of money, the judge said.

“He chose to rob a young woman of her dignity just because he could,” Heath said.

THE TRIAL

A jury convicted Howard on Thursday of aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, kidnapping and rape, all with firearm specifications.

Two co-defendants testified that he helped plan and carry out the early-morning home-invasion robbery, which targeted a marijuana dealer and the man’s girlfriend while they were sleeping.

The victims said they were held at gunpoint and bound with duct tape inside their Sunford Avenue SE townhouse on Aug. 20 by two masked men.

The female victim, who said she could identify Howard as one of the robbers by his voice, testified that Howard penetrated her vagina with a gloved finger or the tip of a gun.

The jury also saw video from a Walmart store that witnesses said showed Howard and accomplice Seth R. Obermiller, 20, of Lake Township buying duct tape and gloves before the robbery.

Obermiller is serving a seven-year sentence. A third co-defendant, Michael A. Taylor, 20, of North Canton, was given probation and ordered into a regional correctional facility after serving as the lookout. Both testified against Howard.

Howard didn’t testify during the trial. He can appeal his conviction and sentence.

HOW MUCH TIME?

A key issue at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing was the amount of prison time Howard faced.

Given the underlying charges and the fact that firearm specifications usually merge, the maximum appeared to be 41 years in prison.

But Heath said her reading of the law, supported by county prosecutors, was that she could imprison Howard for up to 50 years.

Defense attorney Rufus Sims objected to that conclusion.

He also said Howard didn’t have a prior adult record and that a lengthy prison term was less likely to result in rehabilitation.

Assistant Stark County Prosecutor Chryssa Hartnett characterized Howard as a master manipulator who blamed everyone else for his situation and asked the judge to punish him appropriately.

“The only miscarriage of justice is that he wasn’t stopped sooner before it came to all of this,” Hartnett said.

Hoover High football coach Don Hertler Jr. described a Howard in kinder terms.

Howard lived with Hertler for nine months during his junior year. The coach recalled that Howard lost his father to an industrial accident as a child, and needed extra guidance in life.

“I do love this man like a son,” Hertler said. “Good, bad or indifferent.”

While feeling bad for the victims, the coach asked the judge to use restraint and common sense.

The case wasn’t about a star football player, Hertler said. “It’s about a 20-year-old man who I hope gets a chance to redeem himself a little sooner than later.”

Lake township residents sue over police levy

Ballot BoxLAKE TWP., Ohio (AP) – Residents of an Ohio township are suing to block a police levy narrowly passed by voters in November.

The Repository newspaper in Canton reports (http://bit.ly/v0JyEn ) that a lawsuit filed by residents of Lake Township in northeast Ohio claims incorrect ballot language misled voters.

The ballot told voters that the levy would cost residents $0.45 more in property tax for every $1,000 their home is worth. In reality, the levy would cost taxpayers an extra $4.50 for every $1,000 of value.

County officials ruled last week that the levy should move forward because the ballot language reflected the intention to raise taxes, even if it listed the wrong amount.

The levy would generate $2.59 million each year and cover the cost of expanding the Uniontown Police Department.

 

Information from: The Repository, http://www.cantonrep.com

Lake man sentenced to seven years and says he’ll testify against Mr. Football, Erick Howard

Seth ObermillerA man who pleaded guilty to taking part in a home invasion and robbery of a North Canton couple in August was sentenced to seven years in prison Monday, as part of a plea agreement where he’s expected to testify against former Hoover High School football star Erick M. Howard.

Stark County Common Pleas Judge Taryn Heath accepted the prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for Seth R. Obermiller, 20, 2321 Comet Circle NW in Lake Township. He pleaded guilty Nov. 3 to felony charges of aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and kidnapping with two counts of firearm specifications.

Heath sentenced Obermiller to three four-year concurrent sentences for the burglary, robbery and kidnapping charges and two three-year concurrent sentences for the gun specifications. By law, the sentences for the original charges and gun specifications must be separate.

Obermiller’s attorney Rick Pitinii said he instructed his client not to make a statement at sentencing because he’s still involved in the pending criminal case regarding Howard.

A female family member of Obermiller broke out in tears as Obermiller was led away from the courtroom in his jail jumpsuit. She and other family members left the courtroom and declined to comment.

Pitinii said Obermiller will be held at the Stark County Jail until he testifies at Howard’s trial, before he’s transferred to a state prison.

Last week, Michael A. Taylor, 20, of 837 W. Maple St. in North Canton, whom prosecutors called a lookout during the robbery, was sentenced to three years of probation. He had pleaded guilty to one count of attempted burglary and avoided a prison term. Taylor has also agreed to testify against Howard.

On Aug. 20, a 23-year-old man and his 20-year-old girlfriend told police that they awoke that morning to find two men in ski masks pointing handguns at their heads.

Police accused Howard and Obermiller of tying up the couple with duct tape, and police accused Howard of sexually assaulting the woman.

Howard, 20, of 5155 Portage St. NW in Jackson Township, was indicted this month on charges of aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, rape and kidnapping with firearm specifications. Assistant Stark County Prosecutor Chryssa Hartnett said if convicted, he faces a potential 41-year prison sentence.

Howard has pleaded not guilty. He is being held at the Stark County Jail on bond of $250,000.

Heath told Obermiller that he would be supervised for up to five years after his release from prison.

Hartnett said Obermiller could seek early release from prison after serving 3 1/2 years, but there was no indication his request would be granted.

Police levy causes stir among Lake Township Residents

By Tracy Valentine | The Suburbanite
Police levy causes stir among residentsLAKE  Residents voiced their objections to the passage of Issue 6 in a Nov. 14 standing-room-only Lake Township Trustee meeting.Issue 6 is a 4.5 mill levy that expands the Uniontown Police Department to cover all of Lake Township, except Hartville.
“Why does the rest of Lake have to pay for it? We don’t need it,” resident Vito Spano said.Residents Donald Tuck and Ken Kurtz agreed. The men said they will going to have to pay for the increased taxes on fixed incomes.
The two major issues the residents also addressed regarding Issue 6 were the cost of the levy and the typographical error on the ballot.Other residents supported the levy.

“The voters decided this issue. So if you’re mad, that’s who you should be mad at,” LeeAnn Ramirez said.

Resident  Tim Davis wasn’t sure about the levy. “I don’t have the money either. But you don’t appreciate it until you need it. If the community is going to move forward it’s something we need.”

Lake Township’s attorney Charles Hall addressed the ballot typographical error. The ballot incorrectly stated the levy was at a rate of 45 cents per $1,000 per tax valuation.  The levy was actually for $4.50 per $1,000 per tax valuation. Hall explained that he and the Stark County Prosecutor’s Office, the Stark County Board of Elections and the Ohio Secretary of State all failed to catch the mistake.

Resident Dan Robinson asked Hall if the error voided the ballot. Hall said it did not. He added that he reviewed all the material residents saw prior to the election, and that information was correct.

Hall also said the Ohio Supreme Court has previously upheld votes on other ballot issues.

Two residents asked about drilling approved on land near the former Industrial Excess Landfill (IEL).  Norma Bolt and Elizabeth Dixon asked several questions regarding the rules for hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” The women wanted to know what requirement exist for fracking pipes, a possible holding pond and truck routes for the drilling companies.

Trustee President John Arnold said that the township does not have the expertise to answer her questions. He referred them to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency EPA.
Dixon asked if the Township could file an injunction to have drilling stopped next to the landfill.  Arnold arranged a meeting with Dixon and the Township attorney to discuss the possibility of a lawsuit.
Other business:
*Approved — the reappointment of Dr. Ronald Weisel III to the Board of Zoning Appeals for a five-year term.
* Accepted – The resignation of Harold Thompson, effective Dec. 31. Thompson is retiring after 32 years of service as an operator/laborer with the Road Department.

The next Lake Township Trustee meeting is scheduled for Monday Nov. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at 12360 Market Ave. N, Hartville.