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Norton voters defeat sewer issue

12/12/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Collins

NORTON — A proposed charter amendment that would have capped assessed sewer costs for Norton property owners at $5,000 was defeated by the city’s voters during a Special Election Dec. 10.

The proposed charter amendment, submitted by resident William Paluch, received 44 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from the Summit County Board of Elections (BOE), with 1,627 “no” votes cast compared to 1,266 “yes” votes. If the amendment had been approved, there would have been a $5,000 limit, meaning any charges over that amount would have been paid by the city.

In a Special Election in August, 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 BOE, nearly 52 percent of city voters cast votes against that issue, a Citizens4Norton-proposed charter amendment.

Mayor Mike Zita said he was relieved the current issue failed, but at the same time sympathized with residents who may be assessed sewer costs.

“I want to commend everybody that took part in doing what they could do to help get the word out and get this charter amendment defeated,” said Zita, adding the issue would have caused financial hardship for the city if it had passed.

City officials and most City Council members were against both proposals, 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. Last month, 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.

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.

According to city officials, residents in the first phase were sent letters indicating how much they will be assessed for the sewer project. The mayor has said that amount is $8,250.

“Even with this [issue] being on the [ballot], whether it passed or not, that project [Nash Heights] is set by the EPA and we’ve committed to it,” said Zita. “I don’t want enforcement fines [by the EPA] given to the city.”

In addition, the current ballot issue also included a provision that would have allowed any property owner who has already paid an assessment for sewers in excess of $5,000 to be reimbursed the difference by the city.

“The city has been exploring funding options for sewer projects,” said Zita. “The fact of the matter is, we don’t have the money to pay for it. We’re going to have to increase revenue somehow. We’re trying to come up with solutions that will benefit the community.”

Paluch, who said he worked independently on the current ballot issue and is not a member of Citizens4Norton, said his concern has been for homeowners who cannot afford to pay for the sewer project. He said he believes the assessment costs will be higher than what city officials have reported.

“The people voted,” said Paluch, who lives in Nash Heights. “I put the issue on the ballot to give the people a second chance to vote. If the homeowners throughout Norton, and that’s every homeowner, and if they can afford to pay between $18,000 and $28,000 and a flat rate fee once they get hooked up to sewers of $87 a month, plus that goes up every year to 2.5 percent, God bless them.”

Paluch said he may petition to place the issue on a future ballot, but noted he was disappointed with the low voter turnout in this election. According to the BOE, only 36 percent of registered Norton voters cast a ballot Dec. 10.

“There is a possibility of that, but for now, the way the people turned out to vote, you have [about] 8,300 voters in Norton and you only have [about] 2,900 [people] coming out to vote,” said Paluch. “That means they really don’t care about their city. So let them lose their homes and don’t tell them to come squawking to Mr. Paluch. Mr. Paluch gave them two opportunities to vote.”

Zita said he is concerned with the BOE’s cost of running a special election for the city. He said the August election cost the city $15,000.

“Is it a victory?” said Zita. “The charter amendment itself was defeated and I’m glad it was defeated. When the Council clerk asked about a cost for December, we were told it could be two or two-and-a-half times more than what we paid in August. I am sure hoping that is not the case. It needs to come to a point in time when it’s time to move on.”

 

Kathleen Folkerth contributed to this story.

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