Among the various discussions during a recent Washington Court House City Council meeting, members discussed city land being rented out for farming.
Two ordinances were placed on first reading that would, if passed, create a contract to lease city land for farming to two different individuals.
The first contract would be for land located at State Route 753 and Robinson Road for five years to Jayson Beekman of Beekman Farms. The bid that would be accepted for this contract, if passed, is $171 per acre for approximately 25 tillable acres—totaling approximately $4,431.23 per year.
The second contract would be for land located at 1675 Old Chillicothe Road for five years to Anthony Pursell. The bid that would be accepted for this contract, if passed, is $171.55 per acre for approximately 49 tillable acres—totaling approximately $8,452.27 per year.
Council member Jim Blair asked what would happen if a large company, such as Amazon or Honda, would want to buy the land and if the city could sell them the land being rented for farming.
According to officials at the meeting, the lease would be terminated and damages for that year would be paid to the farmer. Basically, this method allows money to be made off property while waiting for an entity to buy it.
Council member Ted Hawk then led the discussion into a clause that is in both leases for how the city checks if rented land has been left in the condition it was originally in prior to a lease starting.
According to City Manager Joe Denen, there are different tests that can be done if the city chooses, although they don’t always run the tests.
Hawk explained it didn’t seem fair as “conscientious” farmers who figure in the costs of keeping property up to certain standards may bid differently than a farmer who doesn’t plan to keep the property to the same standards, and cause the more conscientious farmer to lose the bid.
“If we’re not going to pay attention to it, then it doesn’t need to be in there,” said Hawk.
Throughout the discussion, it was stated that farmers would have to fertilize the land well for their crop, which would keep the soil quality up. It was also explained the clause is more of a deterrent so the land is not severely altered.
“I’m okay with leaving (the clause) in there,” said council member Kendra Redd-Hernandez. “It does give us the right to do it if we want to. I mean—I guess I feel as long as they’re reputable people, that’s what they do for a living.”
Council member Steve Shiltz then agreed and explained that for farmers to make a living, they need to keep the land in good condition in order to grow and make money on the crops.
Following further discussion on the clause, council moved on to other lengthy discussions. Those discussions surrounded items on the minutes from both the City of Washington Court House Finance and Personnel meeting and the City of Washington Court House Economic Strategies and Cooperation meeting. Items that were not being voted on by council at that time will be shared in a future article of the R-H.
As for legislation that was voted on, one resolution was placed on second reading and was then adopted. The resolution allows the city to enter into an agreement with Evans, Mechwart, Hambleton & Tilton, Inc (EMH&T) for engineering services to be provided for the remainder of the year.
The first time legislation is seen and approved by council it is placed on a first reading, and the second time on a second reading. Adoption of resolutions can occur once they have been placed on second reading. Adoption of ordinances can occur once they have been placed on third reading.
EMH&T will now act as a consulting city engineer with various responsibilities surrounding potential city engineering needs and planning efforts.
Two other ordinances were placed on first reading.
One of those ordinances, if passed, would request the Civil Service Commission to establish a process allowing the lateral transfer of police officers and firefighters to the city departments from other jurisdictions. It would also authorize the city manager (Joe Denen) to select candidates for police officer and/or firefighter from a current eligibility list or a lateral transfer list.
“Let’s say that we wanted to hire a patrol officer, and we’ve got the equivalent already working at the sheriff’s office. If we wanted to, we could hire them directly,” said Denen.
Through this ordinance, an officer or firefighter could be transferred in from local or outside districts.
The second ordinance, if passed, would adopt a recommendation from the City Planning Commission to amend the zoning code of the General Employment District (GE) to allow a conditional use for skilled gaming. The recommendation included input from Rod Bryant, the code enforcement officer.
According to minutes from the corresponding city planning commission meeting, the issue to list “skilled gaming” as a permitted or conditional use in a designated zoning district was brought to the planning commission by Hitesh Shaw.
Shaw described the skilled gaming usage he desired for a new business but stated that most property owners want to see where the city allows that particular type of business activity prior to discussing rental space.
As for the gambling aspect of the potential new business, Shaw explained a card must be used to play the games and that all winnings would go back onto the card—expanding play-time, and there would be no cash payout.
The minutes further explain that with a conditional use, situations can be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
The GE district, according to the ordinance paperwork, “provides areas for a wider range of employment opportunities. The district allows for a more restricted range of industrial activities but a wider range of office, business and retail uses. As with the LI (Limited Industrial) District, this district is intended for areas which are primarily undeveloped.”
According to www.firstamendment.com/skill-gaming-legal-guide/, “a game of skill refers to any game, contest or amusement of any description in which the outcome is determined by the judgment, skill or physical ability of the participant in the contest, rather than by chance. The crucial distinction between contests of skill and games of chance can have significant legal repercussions for operators. Jurisdictions vary on their interpretations of the distinction, so it is important to learn how these activities are defined in the relevant marketplaces.”
The website further explains, “every state prohibits unlicensed gambling. However, gambling laws only apply to games that involve the elements of prize, chance and consideration (i.e., payment). In order to avoid being labeled as gambling, the outcome of a game must be governed by skill, not chance. The question is: ‘How much skill?’ Courts across the nation differ in how to weigh the element of skill in comparison to chance.”
During the council meeting, Denen explained there is currently nothing in the code to address skilled gaming nor anything substantially similar to skilled gaming. So, the issue needed to be taken to the planning commission to have a district determined—which is how the recommendation was created and proposed to council.
According to Denen and city attorney Mark Pitstick, a legal business must be provided with a zoning code designation.
“Whatever skilled gaming is—whatever we want to call it, whatever that may be, it will be limited to the general employment district only, and it’s only a conditional use,” said Pitstick. “So, there could be certain limitations put on—hours perhaps, how many people can be in the building. There can be all kinds of limitations put on the building as a conditional use.”
During the council meeting, all council members except Hawk voted in favor of accepting the recommendation.
Lastly during the council meeting, a presentation was presented by Denen giving information on the city budget. Information from this presentation will be shared in a future article of the R-H.
Washington Court House City Council meetings are located in the second floor council chambers of the City Administration Building, 105 N. Main Street. The meetings are added to the YouTube channel “City of Washington Court House, Ohio” at www.youtube.com/channel/UCRwMxUBn8XIQTjnSvFaGDgA. Currently, meetings are held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month at 9:30 a.m.
Reach journalist Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355.