Nelson weighs fate of old township garage

By Rachel Hagenbaugh | Staff Writer Published:

About forty people attended a heated discussion at a Nelson Township trustees meeting Wednesday that accomplished little in deciding the future of the old township garage.

"I'm sorry we didn't get more accomplished," said Michelle Elias, founder of the Nelson Garrettsville Community Cupboard, a nonprofit food bank. The group recently presented trustees with a lease that would allow the nonprofit to use part of that building.

"Until a decision's made, we can't move forward with finding a new location," she said.

Before trustees vote on whether to lease the building to the NGCC, they need decide if the building is worth salvaging.

Trustee Tom Matota said he is concerned about Trustee Joseph Leonard's ability to be unbiased about the building's future. Leonard, a founder of NGCC, was on the administrative board of the charity until Feb. 8, when he resigned.

Chris Meduri, the township's legal council, wrote a letter to the township fiscal officer stating, "This is a complicated situation, and one in which the Ohio Ethics Commission should be consulted in the event that the trustee is adamant on voting on the issue rather than merely abstaining the vote."

Trustee James Turos abstained from voting at the last meeting because he is a member of the Nelson United Methodist Church, an outreach program for the NGCC.

"I've been a member of the church for 50 years," Turos said. "It's considered a conflict of interest so I'm not voting. Joe resigned as a member of the NGCC, but I won't resign as a member of my church."

If the Ohio Ethics Commission agrees with Matota, he will be the only trustee to decide what happens to the building. He said he wants to make the best decision for the tax payers of Nelson. He said it appeared that everyone had an open mind about the building's future. When residents accused him of already making up his mind he said, "It appears that way doesn't it. ... No, mine's open, just in one direction."

At the beginning of the meeting, Matota led residents from the Nelson Community House to the old township garage across the street for a tour of the facility. He pointed out several problems with the building, including a leaking roof and flooding.

In the NGCC's proposed lease, it stated that the township would be responsible for exterior maintenance of the building, while the NGCC would pay for interior maintenance and utility bills.

Several residents asked what it would cost the township to repair the building versus tearing it down. They were surprised when none of the trustees had researched it yet.

"They had two weeks (to look over the lease) and they had no information," said Nelson resident Linda Allen. "They should have had more facts so they could decide whether to keep it or tear it down."

Nelson resident Sandra Collins said she thinks the food bank is a great charity, but doesn't think that tax dollars should be "donating" to help repair the building.

"I would love to know from the trustees if the food bank never walked in the door, would you take our tax dollars and invest it to repair that building or would you knock it down?" she asked.

Ultimately, trustees agreed to postpone the meeting until more information can be gathered.

"It's been a hot potato issue since it started," Turos said. "We need to take a break, approach it slower and evaluate the issue."

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1123 or rhagenbaugh@recordpub.com

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