Once again, Norton voters will face a badly misguided charter amendment that would force the financially strapped city to pay the bulk of the cost of new water and sewer lines. Led by a resident of the Nash Heights area, where leaky septic systems have drawn fire from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, a petition drive has gathered enough signatures to force a vote.
The development is most unfortunate, for the city’s finances and its ability to unite and move forward with new development. Nash Heights has been a problem for decades, with the EPA now ready to order improvements likely to cost around $8 million. By capping at $5,000 the amount residents could be charged for water and sewer costs, the Nash Heights area would get a break — at the expense of the rest of Norton taxpayers.
In the August special elections, Norton voters defeated an amendment that would have halted assessments for water and sewer lines, ended tap-in fees and capped water and sewer bills at $35 a month, with a maximum increase of 2 percent a year. The decision followed a bitter, divisive campaign led by a group called Citizens 4 Norton. The latest issue merely tweaks the concept at the edges. In hopes of attracting more voter support, the new amendment would apply to those who already are paying water and sewer assessments.
If passed, the amendment would lead to budget cuts affecting all residents, with some 255 households in the Nash Heights area standing to gain the most. The amendment would not stall an EPA clean-up order, one based on the detection of contamination from failing septic systems in nearby waterways. What’s more likely should the amendment pass is the city turning over its sewer lines to Summit County, the county meeting the EPA order by assessing residents the full cost, with no help at all from the city.
Action by the City Council on a costly special election in November is purely a formality; the law requires an election to be held once petitioners gather enough signatures. Regrettably, rather than moving forward with improvements necessary to attract development and increase tax revenues, Norton first must refight an old battle.