Fracking, other ‘pending issues’ for Kent city council

Madeleine Winer

Fracking and rentals housing regulations were two of 26 issues that remained in discussion after Kent City Manager David Ruller attempted to clean the list of pending issues city council has not moved forward.

Ruller listed 26 items as “pending issues”— issues that council has discussed for a long time but not acted on or resolved. Council members chose to continue discussions about implementing rental housing inspections and regulations and talking with state lawmakers to discuss fracking in Portage County. They also agreed to continue to find ways to prohibit drilling on city property during a meeting last Wednesday.

Councilwoman Heidi Schaeffer said despite council approving rental housing studies done in Kent, it has not implemented a voluntary inspection program that could be in place later this year. 

“We’ve talked about it and studied it, but what about the implementation?” Schaeffer said. “I realize there has been a lot of work done and a lot of progress made, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done. What we need to do is bring to council a plan to implement an inspection program.”

Schaeffer said the issue of rental housing regulations was introduced to council in June 2007 with the desire for rentals to be better maintained and safer.  

Kent community development director Bridget Susel said she brought options for rental housing inspection plans before council after studying other cities’ plans. Currently, the city can inspect a rental property when invited inside by the resident. She said Kent and Kent State have been evaluating voluntary inspection programs since early 2012. 

Council has adopted other rental regulations, including a party registration program at its February 2014 meeting. 

Councilwoman Tracy Wallach said she would like to implement a licensing policy for rental properties so that the city can keep track of owners, renters and building upkeep. In March 2012, council voted to have the idea of creating a comprehensive rental property licensing program analyzed.

Wallach also motioned for council to keep pushing to meet with state officials on fracking. 

It was scheduled to meet with the state in the summer of 2012, but state representatives backed out of the meeting. Since then, council has adopted the city’s recommendations for legislative and permit issues regarding fracking around Kent, such as the establishment of background levels for the city water supply, negotiating bonding requirements for road use and monitoring Ohio Department of Natural Resource reports on a weekly basis.

Councilwoman Melissa Long, elected in January, said fracking should not be an issue under the sustainability committee but a problem for the whole council to watch as “state legislatures have given oil companies carte blanche” with drilling regulations.

“Citizens of Kent and Portage County can only shake, prod, rattle and roll the ground surface of our sphere so much, and I hope it doesn’t answer back,” Long said, referring to the 16 oil drilling disposal wells in Portage County. 

Another issue that was kept on council’s list was working on a resolution that would prohibit drilling on city property. Originally, the resolution also involved Kent State property. 

James Silver, law director for the city of Kent, said Kent State was reluctant to agree to the resolution because much of the property it owns belongs to the state of Ohio. He said university trustees were not willing to go to the capital and talk with state legislators on the issue until more research was done to validate the environmental concerns that come with fracking.

Schaeffer proposed that council adopt a city policy. 

“Maybe we can take Kent State off the table here, but I would still like to keep a city policy in mind, especially with the lawsuits that are right now happening, and we don’t know the resolution to yet,” Schaeffer said, referring to Sunoco Logistics, a pipeline company in the process of suing two Portage County residents who claimed they did not obey 80-year-old easements.

Other issues council decided to keep on the “pending issues” list were road repairs to Rockwell and Woodard streets and maintaining landscaping along Route 59.

Council decided to drop the concept of a housing court as well as recent projects to develop education on sex offenders. 

Ruller said many of the items on the list came from previous council meetings and will not be forgotten if taken off council’s pending issues list. 

“We do work hard to make it to everything on the list,” he said. “If there are issues that don’t make it on the list, they’re on our radar screen. So even when items get recommended for removal, if there are still things percolating with that they are still on our radar screen.”

Contact Madeleine Winer at [email protected].