Taking a regional approach to common problems is never easy in Northeast Ohio, the many units of local government loath to surrender authority, even to advance the common good. That has been illustrated again and again in the two-year legal battle between five communities in northern Summit County and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.
Fortunately, the Hudson City Council last week approved a settlement with the sewer district that should set a pattern for four other communities in Summit County. The approval of Richfield, Sagamore Hills Township, Northfield and Macedonia is crucial. The settlement is an all-or-nothing deal. If one community backs out, fighting will resume. Summit County also was part of the lawsuit challenging the sewer district and so needs to sign off on the settlement.
The core issue was the imposition of a stormwater management fee, about $57 a year for the average homeowner. Businesses would be charged more, based on impervious surfaces such as driveways. Still, the settlement includes a break for large businesses, reflecting concerns about crimping economic development. Fees will be fixed through 2014, rising a maximum of 5 percent a year through 2021. Twenty-five percent of the fee will be returned to communities for local projects.
What the district has in mind is $25 million a year in projects that would prevent runoff from causing erosion, flooding properties and cars and damaging the water quality of Lake Erie.
The sound assumption behind the district, formed in 1972, is that stormwater problems do not follow political boundaries. They track watershed boundaries. The formation of the district also recognized the chronic failure of community-by-community stormwater projects, a piecemeal approach that too often merely pushed flooding problems farther downstream.
Yet to be resolved are challenges by 11 Cuyahoga County suburbs and a group of property owners and associations, who also argued that the stormwater fee is a tax that should be approved by the voters. They, too, should settle, recognizing that the most efficient and effective way to resolve flooding and water quality problems is to embrace regionalism, not resist it.