NORTON – Necromancy was the dominant theme at the Feb. 3 city council committee work session as First Ward Councilman Jack Gainer sought to breath life into the corpse of the Wolf Creek Watershed Conservancy District.
While his Planning and Economic Development Committee did manage to send the matter to the floor with a 2-1 vote it appears destined to be reburied as four of the seven council members expressed reservations. One, Councilman Dennis McGlone, was the committee no vote on moving it to the floor at all.
The district was first planned back in 2013, after the area’s most devastating flooding in a century washed through. Conservancy districts came about as a direct result of the Great Flood of 1913. They collect real estate taxes that they spend on large-scale flood mitigation projects, like reservoirs and dredging.
After the 2013 flood, officials in Barberton, Norton and Copley Township got together and passed legislation to form such a district for the Wolf Creek watershed. Barberton and Norton, in particular, have been repeatedly drenched in floods.
The plug got pulled while it was still in the planning stages when it was discovered that a handful of homes in Barberton’s south end were already in the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. As citizens cannot be taxed twice for the same services, the idea fell apart and each community turned its attention to smaller-scale, individual mitigation efforts.
Formed in the same way as the Barberton-Norton Mosquito Abatement District, a conservancy district is created by the state courts. The request to the court can come either of two ways. It can come from the communities’ legislative bodies or it can come from a petition of a portion of the residents themselves. The way that fell apart was the first option. Gainer last July was thinking of going for the second, pointing out it would only have taken 500 signatures, but ultimately decided against it.
Gainer held a public meeting in November where he laid out his research and began trying to resurrect the idea, saying he’d discovered Norton could submit the proposal to the court alone. For an example, he pointed out the newly created Yellow Creek Watershed Conservancy District. That one took two years to bring about.
“I am not in favor of waiting,” Gainer said.
Gainer pointed out the original ordinance approved in 2015 can simply be resubmitted “with a little tweaking.”
“It’s been since 1930 that any major work was done in the tributaries and in Wolf Creek,” Gainer said.
Council President Joe Kernan expressed the majority opinion.
“No one will say that flooding isn’t a problem,” Kernan said. “And we should be doing something about it. But this is a judge-appointed board of three people who will impose fees on our residents and they have no say.”
“There’s no guarantee that we’ll have a major voice in this district but we will have a major part in paying for it,” Councilwoman Charlotte Whipkey, who opposed the district back in 2015, said.
“We seven people, who represent a small fraction of the affected area, are going to make the decision for all these other people?” Councilman Paul Tousley asked.
Law director Justin Markey will draw up legislation for council’s consideration at a later legislative session.
Revisions to the property maintenance code will await more information, council decided.
“We need to hear from the administration what sort of complaints are coming in,” Kernan said. “I know of two, junk cars and mowing, but what else is there?”
Zoning inspector Bill Braman will appear at the next committee work session with “a laundry list” of items brought to his attention.
At the Feb. 10 meeting, council will consider an agricultural district application and the advance taxes from the county.
Kernan announced that the council clerk will be collecting filled, wrapped Easter baskets for children in the foster care system.
“There is a special need for baskets for older kids, from 13 up,” Kernan said.
The baskets should be marked with the intended age and sex of the child. Baskets will be collected through March 13 in the council chamber.
The next meeting will be Monday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. in the city administration building.