An issue with potentially devastating financial consequences for the city of Norton as a whole will appear on the Aug. 6 special election ballot. Issue 1, the work of a group inaptly named Citizens 4 Norton, is a charter amendment that would end assessments for sewer and water lines, even for residents who currently are paying. It also would end tap-in fees and cap water and sewer bills at $35 a month, a majority vote of the council needed for any increase, limited to no more than 2 percent a year.
We strongly recommend a “no” vote on Issue 1.
Sparked by the city moving to meet to an imminent Ohio EPA order requiring the installation of sewers to replace aging septic systems in the Nash Heights area of Norton, the amendment would gut most city services, with much of the benefit flowing to the owners of some 255 homes.
Passage of Issue 1 would not stop the EPA mandate. If Norton cannot afford the project, Summit County would take over, assessing residents 100 percent of the cost instead of the two-fifths now estimated by Norton officials, or about $12,000 per home. Those estimates are conservative. Residents traditionally have paid one-third.
Continued polluting of waterways in Norton must end, the EPA order something homeowners in the Nash Heights area long should have anticipated as septic tank systems failed. Other city residents have shouldered a similar share of the cost of extending sewer lines, which not only end pollution but enhance property values.
Funding water and sewer projects from Norton’s general fund, which contains around $6 million, would harm the quality of other services. It would cost about $3.3 million in principal and interest just to pay off existing bonds now supported by assessments. Especially vulnerable is the police department, which could lose six part-time officers and two of 16 full-timers. All citizens would suffer for the sake of a few.
Other options are available for the city to operate more efficiently, easing the cost of water and sewer services. Unfortunately, Norton residents have a long history of resisting a merger with Barberton, which has both. More recently, Norton voters rejected a proposal to contract with the county sheriff’s office for police services and save $1 million a year. Ironically, if Issue 1 passes, the city may have no choice but to strike such a deal.