NORTH ROYALTON – About a dozen residents attending city council’s April 5 stormwater committee to discuss the entire city’s potential involvement in the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s Stormwater Management Program learned the city’s equalization ordinance further muddies the water.
A few residents addressed council troubled by the NEORSD fee likely being imposed, viewing it instead as a tax.
“I’m trying to educate myself and find out why we chose to go this route. We have our own wastewater facility but instead, we’re having the sewer district collect 100 percent of the money and give us back 25 percent?” George Hasek, a resident, said.
Don Harris, a resident, was also upset.
“You keep calling it a fee. It’s a tax,” he said. “It’s a matter of semantics. If it’s a fee, I can’t vote on it. If it’s a tax, I get to vote on it.”
City officials say it basically boils down to everyone pays and only the C District – the northeast corner of the city part of the NEORSD – receives stormwater improvements or everyone pays a little more and the entire city’s regional watershed will be maintained and operated by the NEORSD.
“This comes down to pay and get nothing or pay a little more and get something,” said Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw, stormwater chair. “I don’t like that residents will have to pay a little more. However, this proposed agreement makes a situation imposed upon us by the courts into something that will address one of the top issues our city faces, which is flooding and stormwater issues.”
Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell agreed.
“I’ve been in houses that had 2 feet of water, 3 feet of water, even 8 feet of water. I’ve seen the damage and heartbreak of flooding. I’m not thrilled with the fee, but we’re going to pay anyway. Why not spend $2 or $3 more a month to let the NEORSD go in there and address some of the issues – restore banks, keep streams maintained?” he said.
Via this program, the NEORSD is attempting to remedy stormwater problems from a regional approach. Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, deputy director of watershed programs for NEORSD, detailed it March 15 and again at the meeting for residents in attendance. She started off by showing them a picture of a stream bank lined with rusty washing machines, a resident’s desperate attempt to spare his bank from washing away.
“He did not cause the problem, and he alone cannot solve the problem, which is why we need a regional approach. We are focused on the regional stormwater system,” Dreyfuss-Wells said, which is separate from district’s sanitary sewer system.
City council will ultimately decide, at the April 19 meeting, if the entire city should be included in the NEORSD stormwater program.
North Royalton has a choice where other cities do not, because the city operates its own wastewater treatment facility. The C District, on the other hand, is serviced by the NEORSD, and so is included in the NEORSD program.
Enter North Royalton’s equalization ordinance.
This ordinance, passed in 1995, says residents must pay equal rates. The C District is mandated to pay the fee, which will be more than the rest of the city pays if council turns down involvement, so the entire community’s rates must be equalized so all residents are paying roughly the same. If that happens, the 21 miles of streams the NEORSD would have taken responsibility for in Royalton, which includes debris removal, inspections, maintenance, projects, reimbursement for local projects, none of that happens in or benefits the majority of the city though the majority will be helping financially shoulder those benefits for C District.
“We have to follow the law. We have to equalize rates. If council chooses not to go forward with everyone’s participation, everyone in the community will still be paying for stormwater to one degree or another,” Law Director Tom Kelly said.
If council approves the entire community’s involvement, all will benefit, utilizing the district’s expertise in dealing with stormwater management as well as the financial capacity to complete the necessary maintenance and operation of a regional program, Mayor Bob Stefanik said.
The NEORSD expects $41 million in annual revenue, districtwide, 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, stream bank stabilization and repair, projects North Royalton has been doing in house, will be done on a much grander scale.
Not only does the program fund regional projects, but it features a community-cost sharing component that refunds 25 percent back to individual cities to address their own smaller-scale stormwater projects.
Costs to individual property owners varies depending on the amount of impervious surfaces each has. An impervious surface is an area that does not absorb stormwater and causes runoff – roofs, garages, driveways, parking lots, etc. The base rate is based on Equivalent Residential Units, and one ERU, which costs $5.15 per month, equates to 3,000 square feet of impervious area.
There are three cost tiers, but it’s been estimated most residents will likely fall in the Tier 2 range, which is a medium-size residence and is one ERU.
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.
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 program and confirmed that stormwater is wastewater.
The fee is anticipated to resume this July.
Stefanik reminded residents of the years when the city made headlines for flooding, but it doesn’t happen to that extent anymore because of his stormwater focus. This will build on that, he said.
“A lot of times North Royalton had leadership that only thought about today and not tomorrow. I don’t want to pay it, but I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do,” Stefanik said.
The city has posted information on its website, northroyalton.org, to explain what residents can do to receive credits to reduce the fee and how to apply for the credits.