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Sewer costs on Norton special election ballot

11/21/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

City proceeding on sewer project

NORTON — Norton voters are being asked once again to weigh in on a charter amendment regarding the cost of sewer projects in the city.

A Special Election has been set for Dec. 10, with polls open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., on the proposal submitted by resident William Paluch that seeks to limit how much property owners would have to pay in assessed sewer costs. If the amendment is approved, there would be a $5,000 limit, meaning that any charges over that amount would have to be paid by the city.

“It’s very simple,” Paluch said. “It’s fair and it’s affordable.”

City administrators and most of the current City Council members are not in favor of the charter amendment.

“I don’t know if it’s fair to the entire community to have to take on the cost of a sanitary sewer project that should be an assessed project to a homeowner,” said Mayor Mike Zita.

In the last Special Election, held Aug. 6, Norton voters rejected a similar proposed charter amendment that would have completely eliminated assessments for sewer and water lines and capped water and sewer charges.

According to the Summit County Board of Elections, nearly 52 percent of city voters cast votes against that issue, a Citizens4Norton-proposed charter amendment.

City officials and most City Council members were against that amendment, which came in response to the city’s plans to add sewers to certain neighborhoods due to Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerns, particularly in the Nash Heights neighborhood.

That project is proceeding. On Nov. 14, Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally issued his final findings and report on Nash Heights, and the city submitted a permit to install application to the Ohio EPA by the Nov. 15 deadline.

The order declares that construction in Phase I in Nash Heights East will begin May 15, 2014, and be completed by June 1, 2015. Phase II, the Greenwich Road/state Route 21 Pump Stations and Force Mains, is slated for construction from March 30, 2015, to May 30, 2016. Phase III, in Nash Heights West, will begin March 30, 2016, and be completed by May 30, 2107.

Zita signed the order Nov. 4 after Norton City Council adopted an ordinance giving him the authority to do so by a vote of 5-1.

Zita said this week that residents in the first phase have been sent letters telling them what their assessment will be for the sewer project.

“Everyone is charged $8,250,” Zita said.

That means if the charter amendment passes, the city would be responsible for $3,250 for each parcel.

“It’s still going to be hard for the city as a whole and residents in the city to absorb that cost,” Zita said. “I have said from the get go that two things are going to happen: Funds are going to have to be raised or services are going to have to be cut.”

In addition, the current ballot issue includes a provision that would allow any property owner who has already paid an assessment for sewers in excess of $5,000 to be reimbursed the difference by the city. Zita said city officials are currently trying to calculate what that would cost the city if the amendment is approved.

“The books are closed on that,” Zita said. “Those projects are completed. We’d have to look back and cover those costs as well.”

Paluch, who said he worked independently on the current ballot issue and is not a member of Citizens4Norton, said his concern all along has been for homeowners who simply cannot afford to pay for the sewer project.

“I feel for the people,” said Paluch, who lives in Nash Heights. “A lot of people have told me already they are going to walk away from their homes.”

He added that he has a septic system that is in good condition and he’d like to see the city work with the EPA to explore options besides sewers.

“Even though we have a contract with the EPA, that can be broken if we can show the EPA that there’s a better way, a more affordable way,” he said. “They have new septic systems out there … that use reverse osmosis that don’t have to be cleaned for 10 years.”

But Mayor Zita said septic systems are out of the question in the area. In the Ohio EPA director’s findings, it states that “the residential lots within the Nash Heights area exhibit characteristics unsuitable or detrimental to, new or upgraded on-lot individual sewage disposal systems due to their respective size and soil conditions. Accordingly, the replacement or repair of existing on-site sewage disposal systems is an unacceptable solution to remedy the unsanitary conditions.”

According to a letter from the Ohio EPA sent to the city in July, the Northeast District Office of the Ohio EPA collected samples from Hudson Run and its tributaries and tributaries to Lake Dorothy in the Nash Heights area June 19. The agency said tests showed that E. coli levels in the streams “far exceed the public health nuisance standard” of the Ohio Administrative Code.

While the August charter amendment issue failed, city voters in the Nov. 5 General Election ousted three City Council incumbents, including Council President Don Nicolard (Ward 2) and John Conklin (Ward 4), who were supportive of sewer projects.

That makes Paluch feel confident voters will support his proposal at the polls Dec. 10.

“If we can get four new people on Council, what does that tell you about the citizens in Norton?” he said. “They are fed up. I believe this issue will pass.”

Zita said he’s heard from residents who are concerned about what the proposal could do to the city.

“I’m getting phone calls, and they are wanting to know what is being done or what can be done to keep it from passing,” he said. “They understand that there’s a cost. There’s people that don’t believe it’s the way to go.”

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