NORTH ROYALTON – To fee or not to fee, that is the question.

City council will decide if the entire city should be included in the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s Regional Stormwater Management Program meant to attack flooding, erosion and poor water quality across northeast Ohio.

North Royalton has a choice where other municipalities do not, because the city operates its own wastewater treatment facility. The C District on the other hand, the area of homes in the far northeast corner of the city, is serviced by the NEORSD and so is included in the program by default.

Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, deputy director of watershed programs for NEORSD, detailed the program at length March 15 explaining why the program was implemented, the impervious surface fee that supports it and what it will achieve in the way of projects.

Not only does the program fund regional projects, but it features a community-cost sharing component that refunds 25 percent back to individual cities, so they can address their own smaller-scale stormwater projects.

It’s no secret North Royalton has faced an uphill battle for decades when it comes to stormwater issues, though many would attest things have improved under Mayor Bob Stefanik, who has made it a top priority.

But stormwater is not bound by city limits.

Often times problems downstream cause problems upstream. The NEORSD is attempting to remedy problems from a regional approach.

“The purpose of this program is to fund solutions,” Dreyfuss-Wells said. “There is more than $228 million in backlogged stormwater-related projects and those problems grow every day. This fee will address those problems.”

The program was originally instituted in 2010 but most cities, North Royalton included, fought the fee citing it as a tax. North Royalton eventually dropped its lawsuit and crafted an arrangement with the NEORSD which agreed to contribute $700,000 to the Cedar Estates retention basin, recognizing the city has made significant strides in the way of stormwater relief.

Several communities continued to fight, delaying the program, but the Ohio Supreme Court ruled last year that the NEORSD has the authority to implement this plan, and the fee is anticipated to resume this July.

Costs to individual property owners varies depending on the amount of impervious surfaces each has. An impervious surface is an area that causes stormwater runoff – roofs, garages, driveways, parking lots, etc.

The base rate is based on Equivalent Residential Units (ERUs). One ERU equates to 3,000 square feet of impervious area, and one ERU costs $5.15 per month. There are three cost tiers. Tier 1 is a small single-family residence with less than 2,000 square feet of impervious area and costs $3.09 monthly. Tier 2 is a medium-size residence and is one ERU at $5.15 per month. Tier 3 is a large residence at more than 4,000 square feet of impervious area and costs $9.27 per month.

Sidewalks and driveway aprons are not included in a homeowner’s impervious area.

Larger properties such as businesses, schools and, churches would pay more because they have a greater number of impervious area; however, there are things property owners can do to receive a discounted rate such as disconnecting downspouts, if allowed; utilizing rain barrels; creating rain gardens, retention ponds or detention basins; and laying pervious pavement. Schools will also be able to offer related curriculum to cut their share.

In the C District, there are 3,258 billable ERUs which will amount to $201,357 in collections. North Royalton’s cost-share, the amount it would receive back to perform its own projects, is $50,339 for that district alone.

If council decides to include the entire city in this program, that amount would be much greater, but those estimates are not yet known as they are still being computed for accuracy. Aerial pictures are taken of the city and those images are then used to determine impervious surfaces and ERUs. There are 1.35 miles or 1,761 parcels in the C District, and 19.28 additional miles or 8,000 parcels in the remainder of the community.

The NEORSD expects $41 million in annual revenue, district wide, to fund stormwater projects, which will include not just construction but master planning, inspection, maintenance and encouraging good practices. Things like debris removal, basin inspections, streambank stabilization and repair, projects the city has been doing, however, will be on a much grander scale.

Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell asked how the city can be assured money and projects will filter back to the city.

Dreyfuss-Wells explained the Watershed Advisory Committee for each of the watersheds, which meets twice yearly, is where projects will be brought forward and reviewed. City Engineer Mark Schmitzer is the city’s representative, and Council President Larry Antoskiewicz is the alternate.

“We select based on criticality and risks and believe that’s only fair,” she said. “So wherever it is the worst, that’s where we are going to go.”

As for North Royalton’s program refund, it is put into an account that no one else can access and money is allowed to accumulate for a five-year period, if the city chooses, to tackle bigger projects.

Dreyfuss-Wells pointed out the NEORSD already has a strong presence in North Royalton. They have been inspecting sites in the Big Creek Watershed and at the Abbey Road detention basin, where 600 cubic yards of accumulated sediment were removed last year to restore the stream’s flow.

“And Baldwin Creek is already on our radar,” Dreyfuss-Wells said.

It seems as though council is leaning toward including the entire city in the fee-based program.

“Funds are limited, so it’s exciting to hear what things the sewer district brings to the table,” Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw, who chairs the stormwater committee, said.

“To ignore this would be really short sighted, and unfortunately, that’s just what some of our city leaders have done in the past, and we are still playing catch up,” Antoskiewicz said. “Look at the long-term value and what this will help us achieve.”

Stefanik knows many will cringe at the fee, but said the NEORSD will be able to tackle projects that North Royalton simply can’t, which will only aid in the war on flooding.

“This is an opportunity for us to build on what we have done that last eight year in stormwater enhancements. There are 21 miles of waterways that will fall under the sewer district’s jurisdiction. That’s huge,” he added. “It’s one thing to do little pipes and culverts in the city, which we have done. The bigger picture is making sure water gets to the main tributaries and flows unobstructed out of North Royalton and to Lake Erie. There is a lot of debris in the Rocky River, and they are going to take care of that.”

The mayor said a community meeting will be hosted at some point to explain the program to businesses and large property owners and share things they can do to reduce costs.

This agreement will be on second reading at the April 5 council meeting.

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