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Norton Council preparing opposition to Internet café bill

5/16/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim

Norton City Council President Don Nicolard (Ward 2) said he is prepared to make another trip to Columbus to express discontent with legislation that would take more money out of the city’s budget, he said at Council’s May 13 meeting.

Sub. House Bill (HB) 7, which passed in the Ohio House with a 66-29 vote March 13, is now before the Senate, according to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission. According to the commission, the bill would affect Internet cafés, limiting prizes to no greater than $10 and requiring that all registration and certification filing fees for sweepstakes terminal device facilities be paid into the state treasury.

“The state keeps taking and taking,” said Nicolard, noting the city’s budget loss would be $500,000 from this and other recent legislation.

Nicolard suggested Law Director Peter Kostoff prepare a resolution of opposition with the legislation.

Councilwoman Charlotte Whipkey (at large) said she would like for Council to schedule a special meeting to approve such a resolution, which was set for May 20, following Council’s next work session.

The city receives quite a sum that could go toward the road program, sewer program or other city projects, she noted.

Nicolard said he plans to attend any public hearings the Senate sets regarding the bill.

During a special meeting May 7, Council also adopted a resolution opposing HB 5. The legislation passed by Council asks the Ohio General Assembly to consider the impact on the city of Norton in regards to income taxes imposed by municipal corporations.

Nicolard said he traveled to Columbus with Administrative Officer Rick Ryland and Finance Director Laura Starosta to deliver the resolution, and he testified before the Ways and Means Committee.

“The panel was relatively sympathetic,” he said. “Hopefully, the trip was not fruitless.”

According to Council’s resolution, the bill has the potential to reduce the city’s income from municipal income tax and may reduce the city’s ability to provide needed public services to city residents.

In other business, Kostoff said the city has filed an answer to a lawsuit brought by a group of Gardner Boulevard residents who reside in the Spring Avenue Outfall area.

According to the suit filed with the Summit County Clerk of Courts, Tim and Connie Adair and Paul Ritzman are challenging the city’s alleged unlawful collection of fees. The affected group, the suit alleges, are more than 600 city residents whose sewage is transported through Summit County sewer lines and have their waste treated by Barberton’s wastewater treatment plant.

They claim a putative class of people have been responsible for surcharges of 27.5 percent more than the current user rate the city of Barberton charges Barberton residents, according to the complaint.

Further, the suit alleges the charges were to be put into Norton’s Sanitary Sewer Utility Fund, but residents receive no service associated with the fee.

Kostoff said the case, originally assigned to former Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer, is awaiting the assignation of a new judge. The city’s answer to the complaint will be online soon, he said.

Once the case has a judge, the city will ask for a status meeting, he added.

In other action at the May 13 meeting, Council approved collective bargaining agreements for six clerical workers, two full-time firefighters and 22 to 24 EMTS and paramedics.

The clerical workers’ one-year contract reflects no changes, according to Ryland. The contract for EMTs and paramedics is also an extension of their current contract until Sept. 30, 2013, he added.

The only raises were 2.5 percent to the firefighters, according to Ryland, with 1 percent retroactive to July 2012, 1 percent for the first part of 2013, 0.5 percent in July and another 1 percent in 2014. That contract, covering a two-year period, received a dissenting vote from Whipkey, while the other two agreements passed 6-0. Councilman Scott Pelot (at large) had an excused absence.

Whipkey said she suspects the firefighters’ raises of being tied to passing fire levies, which is not what she believes people who voted for the levies intended.

“People want ambulance services 24/7,” she said.

Also at the meeting, Council adopted an ordinance for an amended agreement for the joint dispatch center the city has with Barberton and Copley Township.

For the past three years, the communities have been operating under a memorandum of understanding (MOU), said Ryland. Now, one contract that includes the MOU, as well as a $300,000 Local Government Innovation Fund loan, allows the communities to move forward with creating a Council of Governments to share services, he added.

Council also unanimously adopted an ordinance for the mayor and finance director to renew an agreement for property and casualty insurance for the plan year, retroactive to April 28, for one year. The cost, $78,339, is nearly the same as last year, according to Ryland.

Also at the meeting, Mayor Mike Zita read a proclamation declaring May 15 Police Officers Memorial Day “to honor America’s peace officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said, and presented it to Police Chief Thad Hete. That day, all city flags would be flown half-staff, he said.

Hete said he is “incredibly proud of the job men and women [in Norton’s police force] perform every day.”

Council next plans to meet for a work session May 20 and for its regular meeting May 28, both at 7 p.m., in Council Chambers at the Safety-Administration Building, 4060 Columbia Woods Drive.

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