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Published: 5/18/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Sylvania Twp. may drop out of new county water district

Move could prevent subsidizing others, trustee says

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ten Mile Creek, overflowing at the Highland Meadows Golf Club after storms in 2006, is a candidate for drainage improvement work, county engineers say. Ten Mile Creek, overflowing at the Highland Meadows Golf Club after storms in 2006, is a candidate for drainage improvement work, county engineers say.
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A little more than a week after Lucas County Commissioners voted to create a storm-water utility district, officials in the most populous township it includes are exploring dropping out.

Sylvania Township Trustee Kevin Haddad said he believes eschewing the county district and creating a township district would collectively save his constituents about $500,000 a year and keep the largest player in the deal from "subsidizing" work in other townships.

Commissioners voted May 10 to create the district, which would make sure mandates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding storm water are followed.

To fund the district, homeowners in each of the seven included townships (Jerusalem, Monclova, Spencer, Springfield, Sylvania, Washington, and Waterville) would pay $48.72 annually.

Owners of commercial properties would pay more, based on their hard surface -- things such as roofs, parking lots, and sidewalks.

The rate is to be static for two years, at which point commissioners will examine actual costs of the program versus what the fees are bringing in and consider adjusting accordingly.

Sylvania Township, with 48,487 residents as of the 2010 census, is home by far to the most people among those seven.

Mr. Haddad said the townships need to "act like a major city in the state of Ohio" when looking at the deal.

"I'm trying to tax my residents as little as possible and be in compliance with the law," Mr. Haddad said.

County officials say the district would collect about $800,000 annually from Sylvania Township.

Mr. Haddad puts the number closer to $1 million, and says he can cut that in half and still meet the mandates.

Other trustees aren't so sure.

"I'm under the impression the county did their homework and knows what they're talking about when they put on a $48 fee per household. Mr. Haddad does not believe that and thinks they came up with this arbitrarily, like he came up with $24 arbitrarily. Until I get more information I'm not ready to make a move other than going with what the county is proposing," Sylvania Township Trustee John Jennewine said.

Still, the township plans to devote a yet unscheduled special meeting to the matter.

Mr. Jennewine and fellow trustee Neal Mahoney both say it's fair to look at how the money will be spent to make sure their township isn't paying disproportionately for work in other places.

Mr. Haddad said he's not against the other townships, but he thinks the utility district could be a bad deal for his constituents.

"I've always believed in regionalization and practicality where it counts," Mr. Haddad said. "I don't believe in regionalizing something where you're taking someone's money and using it somewhere else."

Because of the nature of water -- what's a problem here now might be a problem there later -- Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said the coordination the district will create is important. That's something township officials should consider before making a decision, he said.

"I question whether they're taking their $800,000 in standalone as the same value as their $800,000 with everyone else's coordination. Water just doesn't stay in Sylvania Township," Mr. Gerken said.

Though the mandates come down from the U.S. EPA, the Ohio EPA is tasked with enforcing them. Spokesman Dina Pierce said the agency's only concern is that what needs to be done gets done.

"They want to have their own utility or storm-water plan, that's fine with us. They want to be part of the county's, that's fine with us. The key we look at is the program gets implemented and operational and we achieve water quality improvement as a result," she said.

All of Lucas County, including Sylvania Township, is currently covered by a storm-water permit. The permit is required by the federal EPA, while a storm-water district is a vehicle by which to generate funds for improvements.

Lucas County expects to collect $2.3 million a year from the utility district fees. Sylvania Township would be the single largest contributor, but Mr. Gerken said he did not expect commissioners to raise fees elsewhere if Sylvania Township did move forward with its own district.

"It may come down," Mr. Gerken said of the rate, should Sylvania Township leave. "Sylvania Township is the biggest one but also has the biggest need. It's hard to say. We've got a pretty good rate structure here. If they would find a way to come out, we'll look at the business plan rate structure again."

The Lucas County Engineer's Office will manage the funds. In general, the fees will cover costs incurred to meet the EPA's so-called minimum control measures: public education, public involvement, illicit discharge detection and elimination, controlling construction site runoff, post construction storm-water management, and pollution prevention.

Brian Miller, drainage engineer with the Lucas County Engineer's Office, said the fees will also cover engineering fees, ditch cleanup, sewer cleaning and street sweeping.

County officials have pointed to Ten Mile Creek, which winds through Sylvania Township, as a possible project. Preliminary estimates from the Lucas County Engineer's Office show a drainage improvement project there could cost in the neighborhood of $5 million.

Mr. Haddad said the township has already spent considerable money on improvements in its section of Ten Mile Creek.

Mr. Miller said other capital projects that could reach into the millions include work in Swan Creek and Prairie Ditch. Those projects would require setting back some money for the capital improvement budget. Preliminary numbers show the county could spend in the range of $600,000 a year on ditch cleaning.

Springfield Township Trustee Marilyn Yoder, who is also president of the Lucas County Township Trustees Association, did not know of any other townships looking to create their own district.

Ms. Pierce said the Ohio EPA had not heard interest from any of the other townships in starting their own district.

The village of Holland and the city of Waterville could join the district if their respective councils voted to do so. The mayors of both, however, said at this time they don't expect to join.

"I don't see a benefit of us participating in it," Holland Mayor Mike Yunker said. "Obviously, there's a cost to all the property owners in Holland should we join. Until we see a real benefit, I don't think Holland is going to participate."

Mr. Yunker said the village has in recent years updated its storm sewers at its own cost.

The vote to officially create the district came after two years of studies, planning, and negotiations. All three commissioners were in agreement that the district was fair and necessary. The townships covered all must meet EPA regulations.

"They can all do it alone, I suppose, and replicate the cost seven times, but we felt it was better government to do things in one place, have some consistency across the board on the regulations and the administration of them, and to coordinate the projects," Mr. Gerken said.

The district will begin collecting fees next year on property tax bills. All money gathered from the fees is marked specifically for storm-water issues.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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