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County may make clean break from Norton sewers

2/26/2015 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Summit County Council’s Public Works Committee recommended Feb. 23 the county sell some of its sanitary sewer facilities to the City of Barberton in a $1.75 million deal.

The sale would include four wastewater treatment plants and almost 16 miles of sewers serving 1,300 customers in Norton.

The committee voted 3-1 to recommend Council adopt legislation authorizing the sale, with Councilman Jerry Feeman (D-District 6) voting against it. Committee chair Sandra Kurt (D-at large) was absent.

Feeman said after the meeting he doesn’t intend to hold up the legislation, but he is looking for some more justification that it’s a good deal for the county.

“I just want to understand a little bit more of the nuts and bolts,” he said.

To purchase the county’s plants and sewers located in Norton, Barberton would pay the county $175,000 a year, without interest, for 10 years on the purchase, said Mike Weant, director of the county’s Department of Environmental Services (DOES).

The sale price was determined based on the debt burden per customer currently connected to county sewers, said Weant.

Currently, the county bills half of its Norton customers, with Barberton billing the other half, added Weant.

Beyond connection fees and annual maintenance fees, the county generates no other revenue from its Norton customers based on an agreement made more than 20 years ago, said Weant.

“It has to be the worst deal for the county you can ever imagine,” said Feeman.

“It is a good deal for DOES to get away from that situation where it’s losing money,” Weant added.

The sale also would provide a clean break for the county from any responsibility toward the Environmental Protection Agency consent orders issued to the City of Norton, said Weant.

Following the vote, Committee vice-chair Frank Comunale (D-District 4) endorsed the legislation.

“This is a good agreement for the county. County government’s responsibility is to foster things that make long-term environmental sense for the community,” he said.

In other business, the Public Safety Committee recommended awarding one-year contracts totaling $133,000 for Summit County Juvenile Court to identify and treat victims and those at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. The contracts, with OhioGuidestone, Rahab Ministries and the Begun Center and Center for Innovative Practices at Case Western Reserve University, will provide screening, assessments and treatment of youth, according to court officials.

Council committees also recommended awarding two contracts totaling $264,000 to update technology in Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Tom Teodosio’s courtroom.

This would be the sixth of 10 judges’ courtrooms to get the updates since the project began in 2001, according to Brian Clark, of the county’s Physical Plants Department.

Considering the age of software installed 14 years ago, Councilman Tim Crawford (D-District 7) questioned whether the county is being aggressive enough in updating its courtroom technology.

Clark said the upgrades are done as special project funds are available.

All six courtrooms that have been upgraded are nearly identical, besides the age of the software, added Bob Gainer, assistant court executive. The earliest projects have seen software upgrades and receive preventive maintenance, he said.

Finance Director Brian Nelsen noted the project is the first to have used the county’s new online bidding program. For the electrical infrastructure installation, bids came in lower than the county engineer’s estimate of $90,000, he said. The contract the committee recommended for that portion of the project will cost the county $65,000, according to the legislation.

The online bidding process “will allow, we think, for much more competitive bidding and also simplifies the procedural process for the purchasing department, eliminates math errors, just makes the whole process much better,” said Nelsen.

Also that evening, the Planning and Economic Development Committee recommended Council adopt legislation to contribute $45,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for the All-American Soap Box Derby to develop a fifth-grade curriculum based on gravity racing. The science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum, which is being designed by Western Reserve Public Media would be comprised of five modules with at least four lessons each and include a derby car kit, said Joe Mazur, Soap Box Derby president and CEO.

Holly Miller, representing the county’s Department of Community and Economic Development, added the lessons are expected to be implemented during the 2015-16 school year in schools outside Akron, Barberton and Cuyahoga Falls, as required for the use of CDBG funds.

The total cost to develop the curriculum is $152,000, but the rest has already been raised, she said. She added she anticipates assisting schools in applying for additional CDBG funds to purchase the curriculum.

In other business, the Rules Committee recommended Council adopt legislation to amend the county’s codified ordinances to conform with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The proposed change specifies that the application for registering a service animal not require documentation of certification, training or license as a service animal. Instead, an application will ask if the animal is required due to a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform, according to a draft of the amended ordinances.

Law Director Deborah Matz said county policies have conformed with the Ohio Revised Code, but state law is preempted by federal law.

Council will next meet March 2 at 4:30 p.m. for caucus, followed by the regular meeting in Council Chambers on the seventh floor of the Ohio Building, 175 S. Main St. in Downtown Akron.

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