Annexation issue heats up in Batavia

Village of Batavia Administrator Dennis Nichols said the village has been exploring annexation since he started there almost a year ago. When Nichols approached property owner Richard Saylor about annexation, and Saylor was interested, Nichols decided to throw a couple more properties into the mix.

Nichols drew up a map that would annex approximately 108 acres into the village, including to the University of Cincinnati Clermont, the Southern Ohio Developmental Center, and Saylor’s property.

This is possible because a property owner must sign the petition for annexation, and in this case Saylor signed the petition. Government agencies, however, cannot sign a petition, and approval is not required from either U.C. Clermont or the Southern Ohio Developmental Center to move forward with the annexation.

With an annexation, the village provides property owners services such as water, sewer and law enforcement and in turn, the village can collect tax from the property owners, or employees of businesses on the property.

The village of Batavia already collects a 1 percent earnings tax from employees, as well as property tax from residents in the village. So if the properties are annexed, owners and employees of the newly annexed properties would be required to pay these taxes.

Money grab? Nichols said “Absolutely.” And his attitude, along with the concept of annexation, has created some controversy, especially with employees at U.C. Clermont. Although the university is exempt from paying the property tax, employees would pay the 1 percent earnings tax.

“I think the village and the college have had a positive relationship for almost 40 years,” said Dr. Frank Hauser, a biology teacher at the college. “It seems the recent attempt to annex is more on the part of greed of the administrators in the village than services rendered.”

According to Hauser and Mae Hanna, director of college relations, the college is self sufficient. Hanna said they receive water and sewer service from the county and use the university’s police force and maintenance team.

“They are offering us services we don’t need,” Mae said. “We would love to see them improve but we would love to see them do that through partnerships and not by taking money through a money grab.”

Some employees are so upset about the annexation that they are boycotting businesses in the village, including gas stations, restaurants and local shops.

“They feel they haven’t had a voice in the process,” Dean Gregory Sojka said about the employees who are against the annexation. “They are concerned because they don’t know what services they will receive. Some of them are upset and some of them are angry.”

Dean Sojka said the college has employees at every level, from professors to custodial workers to students in work study programs.

“I am concerned about them,” Dean Sojka said. “Everybody is supporting families and some people haven’t had pay increases.”

Employees at the Southern Ohio Developmental Center declined to comment on the annexation.

When it comes to approving or fighting the petition for the annexation, the Batavia Township Trustees and Clermont County Commissioners are really the only bodies that can make a move, and their actions are all based on a list of seven requirements that have to be met.

Rex Parsons, Batavia Township administrator, said the only way trustees can prevent the annexation is if they can prove that at least one of seven requirements is not met.

Requirements are related to road and property details as well as deadlines for the annexation. Once the petition moves on to commissioners, Parsons said they can only point out errors with the requirements.

Nichols said if the three properties are annexed, they would still be a part of the township, but would be a part of the village also.

Both Nichols and Mayor John Thebout feel the village should have annexed properties sooner, especially U.C. Clermont, which Nichols said has been getting a free ride for years. Nichols expressed this staff members in a letter addressed June 13.

“A community is more than a set of service transactions,” Nichols wrote. “And members of the community owe a legal and moral obligation for upkeep of its institutions, infrastructure and public places. Any notion that the faculty and staff of the University of Cincinnati Clermont College should somehow be exempt from that burden is without merit.”

Nichols estimated that more than $200,000 would be collected from the earnings tax. He said the village wants to use the money for capital improvements, including the renovation of existing infrastructure and improvements to the village that will help aid in its appearance and bring more business to the area.

Some business owners already in the area have said they are OK with the annexation, including Naimeh David, the owner of Moon-Lite Chili on Main Street.

“In my opinion I think it would be good,” David said. “That would be great for the business for the town.”

Village officials’ goal is to improve the village by bringing more business and more business owners to Batavia, but without additional revenue this is difficult.

“The council and myself and the village administrator have worked hard to watch what we spend,” said Mayor Thebout. “And we plan on doing the same thing in the future. Just because the money is coming in, doesn’t mean we’ll spend it foolishly, it’s just going to give us the help that we need.”