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Members of Norton Council strongly opposing Issue No. 1

6/27/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim

Following a lengthy discussion during their regular meeting June 24, Norton City Council passed a resolution strongly opposing the passage of Issue No. 1 in the Aug. 6 Special Election.

Council Member Bill Mowery (Ward 3) voted against it, and it passed with a 6-1 vote.

The proposed change to Norton’s charter, which originated with a citizen petition, would eliminate fees for construction of sewer or water lines and have the city charged for assessments for sewer or water lines. Also, the amendment proposes that Norton residents not be charged to tie into or connect to sewer or water lines within city limits. In addition, the charter amendment would cap residential water and sewer bills at $35 a month, unless increased by a majority vote of Council by not more than 2 percent per year.

“I think we are guilty of not representing the people, period,” said Mowery, in describing his stance on the issue. He added he believes it’s the mayor’s job to make sure city services don’t falter.

His expectation is that the measure will end up ping-ponged back and forth in court, he said.

“I have to support the people. ... Right or wrong, I have to say I’m with the people,” he added.

All other members of Council commented on their own reasons for opposing the proposed charter amendment.

Council member Todd Bergstrom (Ward 1) said if the charter amendment passes, it would tie the hands of Council and take away its ability to be fiscally responsible.

“I can’t believe this would even come to our table,” he added.

Council President Don Nicolard (Ward 2) added he has been opposed to the measure since he saw people circulating the petitions, calling it “heinous, at best.”

Council Member Charlotte Whipkey (at large) noted she doesn’t think the amendment is written correctly, and it would violate home rules, crossing the boundaries into Barberton.

“Unfortunately, Barberton charges tie-in fees. They are in control of the water bill. ... We have no authority, in my opinion, to tell them what they can charge the citizens of Norton.”

If the amendment passes, it would become illegal for anyone to charge any property owner in the city to hook up to water and sewer lines, noted resident Jack Gainer.

That means anyone could buy property in the city and fill a swimming pool or open a car wash, for example, paying only $35 a month, he said.

Mayor Mike Zita also asked for “no” votes on Issue No. 1.

“Sewers are going to come,” he said. “Believe it or not, they are going to come. It’s a matter of whether we put them in as a city or Summit County is forced to put them in for us. I believe that we, as a city, can maintain our own destiny, keep the prices controlled by Council and the administration and keep it here in the city of Norton.”

Zita also said the ballot measure is “poorly written,” particularly in terms of capping water bills at $35 per month, cautioning there is no mention of who would pay the remainder of the bills, which would have to come out of the city’s General Fund.

In other news, Law Director Peter Kostoff said Ninth District Court of Appeals Judge Carla Moore’s opinion on a lawsuit filed by a city resident is that the city is in compliance with a charter amendment requiring City Council meetings be televised.

City officials were granted a summary judgment June 12 on the lawsuit filed by William Paluch asking for a writ of mandamus to require City Council meetings be broadcast on live TV, rather than streamed over the Internet. With judges Donna Carr and Beth Whitmore in concurrence, Paluch’s petition for a writ of mandamus was denied, according to court records.

Among other pieces of legislation passed unanimously, Council voted 6-1 to apply to the Ohio Public Works Commission for funding a sanitary sewer project to service the Wadsworth/Summit roads extension and authorizing a memorandum of understanding with the city of Barberton. Whipkey voted against the resolution.

Council next plans to meet for a work session July 1 and for its regular meeting July 8, both at 7 p.m., in Council Chambers at the Safety-Administration Building, 4060 Columbia Woods Drive. Following the July 8 meeting, Council will take a break, with the next meeting set for Aug. 19 for a work session and Aug. 26 for a regular meeting.

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