Nelsonville will remain a city, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said on Tuesday.
The City of Nelsonville announced Monday that the city’s enumeration process was successful in finding over 5,000 residents in order to retain city status, sending the names and addresses to the Secretary of State’s office for consideration.
At Monday’s Nelsonville City Council meeting, Nelsonville City Auditor Sappington announced the effort to collect signatures had found 5,373 — well above the threshold for city status. Sappington said in an interview the effort was a high point for the community.
“We have high hopes and high expectations and we think this is just one example of what we can do, and now its past tense, it's what we have done,” Sappington said. “Nelsonville is at its peak in the sense of its peak community and peak togetherness.”
The 2020 U.S. Census counted 4,612 Nelsonville residents. In 2019, the census estimated the city's population at 5,130, just above the minimum 5,000 needed to remain a city. Last month, Nelsonville officials received a proclamation from LaRose declaring that the city will revert to village status in 30 days.
Reverting to a village would have been catastrophic, the city said in releases during the enumeration campaign. Services such as police and fire and funding for Nelsonville-York School District — and the ability to solicit grant money — would have been affected by village status.
Now, instead of reverting to a village, the new proclamation states that in 30 days from Tuesday, Nelsonville will instead become a city.
Rob Nichols, spokesperson for LaRose, commended the city on its effort counting citizens.
“We’re very happy for them and to their credit they worked very very hard in a short order of time and they should be very proud of what they accomplished,” Nichols said.
City Manager Scott Frank thanked all the city employees, including the utility, fire and police departments, as well as citizen volunteers, for taking time to walk the streets and find residents.
“A lot of people came together and put in a lot of walking and time to make it happen — I can't thank them all enough,” Frank said.
Scott Fitch, the Nelsonville Police Chief, said from a police department perspective it was good because it keeps opportunities for grants open, but the process was also good for the community as a whole. Several members of NPD, including Fitch, NPD Officer KJ Tracy and Clerk Jessica Mount were involved in going door-to-door to collect signatures.
“It was nice for me as well to go and knock on doors and meet people even though it was under those circumstances,” Fitch said. “I think it's good for the city as a whole. It was extremely nice to see everyone come together, citizens and city hall and city employees.”
Athens County Commissioner Chris Chmiel congratulated the city and said the occasion was "great news" for the county as a whole. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, did not respond to requests for comment.
On Oct. 1, Sappington named Nelsonville City Council members Cory Taylor and Justin Booth, City Code Enforcer Becky Barber, Mallory Swaim and Kevin Dotson as enumerators.
Sappington and volunteers had until Oct. 11 to conduct the recount in an attempt to find Nelsonville residents. Within these 10 days, the enumerators must also review and certify collected data. Volunteers primarily collected the names and addresses of residents.
Sappington said the city solicited names of tenants from landlords in the city, and all of the landlords except one provided tenant information.
Sappington said confidence going into the counting that there were more than 5,000 residents helped drive the campaign, as well as a robust public information campaign.
“We are actually thrilled with the outcome, we were confident ahead of time that the numbers were there,” Sappington said. “ We believe there are more than 5,373 — that's just what we could get to in 10 days.”
When Nelsonville officials traveled to Columbus on Tuesday to deliver the enumerated count of citizens to LaRose’s office, Frank said he was not expecting an immediate proclamation of city status.
Frank said the staffers at the office told them shortly after they arrived they’d have the proclamation “in like 10 minutes.” Sappington said it seemed like the secretary’s office had done research ahead of time.
“The most important thing it says is the naysayers and doubters who are down on Nelsonville are just wrong, we just had an opportunity to show that the community is strong,” Sappington said. “This mindset we can stick up for ourselves. There’s no need to blame others and ‘woe is us’ because we can do it ourselves.”