By Jane Ernsberger
Times-Junction News Editor
The City of Willard's existing franchise agreement with Ohio Power giving the power company the right to maintain and work on lines on the city streets and alleys will expire in July, according to Randy Payne, of American Electric Power.Members of Willard City Council have given first reading to an ordinance for a new franchise agreement but will not set a time limit until the second reading."That franchise agreement was signed 25 years ago," Payne told members of council," Payne noted. "I am here to ask city council for a renewal of the franchise agreement."There were several options Payne presented to council. The first option would be another 25 year agreement."But this one is what we call a perpetual," Payne explained. "What that means is after 25 years, it is an automatic renewal, unless either party wishes to entertain a motion to change it."The second option is a standard franchise agreement identical to the one that is set to expire, Payne said. The city would determine how many years that contract would be in effect. Renewal could be every year."I would like to see us go a little longer on that," he said. "A lot of the communities are a little reluctant to go the 25 years, but it's up to the council. We can do whatever number of years in the agreement you wish."Payne said the basic agreement allows AEP to come into the city and work in the roads and any right-of-way without having to go through the permit process. If there was a problem at night, he said AEP would not have to contact someone from the city to set a new pole."Keep in mind with that said, it's your right-of-way," Payne noted. "If you have an issue with us, or where one of our poles are, you still have the right to tell us where those poles get set in."Council member Diana Olson asked if there was anything different in the franchise agreement Payne was requesting over the last 25-year agreement."Not that I am aware of, other than the wording" Payne replied. "We'd like the solicitor to make sure of that for you. As far as I can tell, it's the same agreement."Willard City Law Director David Harwood said it is essentially the same agreement as the one the city has had in effect. The language was fairly standard."The self-perpetuating agreement, we have always stayed away from," Harwood pointed out.Council president Josh Gerber pointed out Payne had presented two agreements. He asked if the law director would recommend one of those.Harwood said the 25 year franchise agreement contained the self-perpetuating automatic renewal clause. "I do not recommend that council sign this agreement to that effect."Payne said he picked the 15 year number to use when he sent examples of the agreements to Willard City Manager Shawn Tappel.Council member David Sattig asked if there was anything council needed to do on a legislative level."You will have to pass the ordinance," Harwood explained.Sattig said council needed to decide what it wanted to do for a time limit.Payne said even with the city getting close to the expiration date, he preferred not to pass the ordinance as an emergency. He wanted council to go through the normal readings and pass the ordinance this way.Tappel said he recommended the 15 year limit on any franchise agreement."Would 15 years pose a problem with AEP," Sattig asked.Payne said it would not pose any problem. AEP would entertain a motion for whatever time council chose."A lot of the communities, with the way things are changing in the industry, are a little reluctant," Payne said. "The 25 year agreement where we have a major presence where we have service centers, is really not a big issue. But where we don't have a large presence of employment, it's whatever the community wants."Payne also asked if there were any problems questions or concerns between the city and AEP on liability or service."There's a lot of utility choice programs out there right now," he pointed out. "We tell energy providers we're not going to recommend one provider over another."Gerber said council has had some issues with trees."As far as AEP's concerned," Tappel pointed out, "they are cutting for their right-of-way. I think our issue falls more with the company. AEP was just going in there and doing their job of putting in the electric that they needed to put in."