Canton municipal government is desperate for revenues these days.
Mayor William J. Healy, II recently laid out a number of options for the city's lawmakers to consider in making moves to close a $4 million to $4.5 million gap between projected expenses expected revenues come 2013.
The options include the raising of about $500,000 from the leasing of city lands to frackers to extract natural gas deposits embedded in rock some 8,000 feet below the surface.
At his recent State of the City Address, Mayor Healy designated Canton as being "The Utica Capital" to stand along side of Canton being "The Pro Football Hall of Fame City" as Canton's claim to fame.
The idea of "The Utica Capital" is to send a message to the natural gas and oil industry that Canton has its arms wide open for the industry to come to Canton and Stark County with jobs.
If they come, Canton stands to reduce its unemployment ranks even further than its present 7.4% and also gain valuable revenues from increased income tax collections.
On the Canton City Council agenda was the first reading of an ordinance authorizing city administration officials to negotiate a lease with companies that might be interested in fracking on city owned property.
When word got out that the council was considering the lease of lands for fracking, the word went out from the well-organized Stark County anti-fracking community to show up and object.
And they did. By the SCPR's count, 11 of them.
One of the primary actions of previous council actions the objectors referred to was a January 3, 2011 "informal" resolution passed which asked for a moratorium on fracking, to wit:
The informal resolution was about all Canton City Council could do because of legislation (supported by the entire Stark County delegation at the time of voting in 2004 on Senate Bill 165 and 2010 House Bill 278 [i.e. Kirk Schuring, Scott Oelslager, John Hagan, William J. Healy, II, and Stephen Slesnick] which took away all effective means of local government to deal with the extraction of minerals.
Obviously, they (the anti-frackers) are taken aback by council's flirtation with doing business with an industry engaged in an extraction operation that the previous council felt needed more examination.
What a difference financial need can make, no?
And with the mayor cozying up with the oil and gas industry (remember: "The Utica Capital"), does it do any good for dissenters to show up and object?
What does not work is for the speakers to be outsiders telling Canton government what it ought to be doing, so says Mayor Healy in a conversation with yours truly.
He cited the inability of trap, neuter and return advocates with respect to managing the feral cat population as an example of pleas falling on council deaf ears when it became apparent that nearly all the advocates were from outside the city.
Well, if his take is a valid assessment of what works and what does not work with Canton's legislators, then it appears that council is likely to authorize the solicitation of bids to lease out city lands.
However, Mayor Healy does not discount the effect that citizens-united can have on what city council ultimately decides to do on any given issue.
He acknowledges that it is not unusual for him to get one read in talking to councilpersons individually only to be surprised to see a turnabout after public input has been made which sometimes results in a final decision different from what he anticipated.
The anti-frackers should be encouraged to hear from Healy that council, from his perspective, has its own mind and that the body sometimes does not follow (after public pressure is brought to bear) what he gathered as being council's pre-public-speaks position.
But they should be discouraged from the standpoint that too many of their number on Monday night were not voting residents of Canton.
To be effective, the anti-frackers need to find more voting Cantonians (if they exist, and, of course, are willing) to come to public speaks and identify themselves by ward as being against Canton leasing its lands for natural gas and oil exploration.
With Canton seeking ways to balance its budget, the prospect of a lump sum of $500,000 plus annual royalty payments for as long as a given well is a producing well has to be compelling to many members of council.
A few of the speakers on Monday said in effect: Find the $500,000 elsewhere.
They can put the burden on council members to find alternatives, it is council's job. However, do the anti-frackers want to be effective?
Maybe their case would be strengthened if they were to present viable alternatives to the members of council as how to make up the $500,000 plus to be lost in not doing leases.
The SCPR believes that there are at least three council persons who will not vote for the lease ordinance. However, the anti-frackers have to move the number up to at least six on the presumption that the tie-breaking vote of Council President Allen Schulman would fall their way.
So to summarize, the anti-frackers, if they are to succeed, must as a practical matter:
- populate their public speaks presenters with actual Canton voters, and
- suggest workable and viable alternative sources for council to come up with the forgone $500,000
And such a possibility is clearly the "elephant in the room" that in and of itself that may motivate council to reject the lease ordinance.
But the SCPR believes that this scenario is not direct and forceful enough in a political action sense, for the anti-frackers to realize their objective.
Right now Canton (the deficit not dealt with) faces the loss of some 80 to 100 safety forces.
Certainly the potability of water is extremely important. But so is the safety of Canton's citizens.
If council decides to go ahead with leases, they will have satisfied themselves that they have taken prudent measures to prevent the corruption of public drinking water supplies. The SCPR is unwilling to believe that council will decide to lease without having assured themselves that they are doing the responsible thing.
But they still can be wrong as the anti-frackers most certainly would believe if they are not successful in convincing council not to go down the lease-for-fracking road.
The SCPR is impressed with the commitment and vigor of the anti-frackers.
But to say it one more time: to be useful to the general public in their zeal to protect water supplies, fracking dissenters must convince a majority of Canton's legislators:
- that there would be specific adverse political consequences to non-supportive councilpersons if they vote to authorize leases by presenting numbers of voting Cantonians that suggest that their continued service on council could be in jeopardy, and
- that councilpersons should select from a number of specific possible alternatives to find revenues than to lease Canton lands anywhere near the aquifers that serve Cantonians.
Okay, fracking objectors. Have it your way. Provide no guidance or suggestions and lose on the final vote on the issue.
What kind of sense does that make?
In short, the anti-frackers need to become political realists! The SCPR has never questioned the anti-frackers zeal, but The Report does question their ability to put forth effective political action.
What follows in a series of videos of anti-frackers/anti-lease presenters at Monday's "Public Speaks" segment of the Canton City Council meeting.