For the first time in recent history, Akron plans to spend more on water and sewers than economic development.
Akron’s proposed capital budget for 2013 includes nearly $100 million for water and sewer projects and less than half — about $46 million — for economic development efforts. The numbers were opposite just two years ago, with the city spending about $49 million on water and sewer and $104 million on economic development.
The reason for the flip: Akron’s mammoth sewer project is gearing up, while its commitments to the Goodyear and Bridgestone projects are winding down.
Water and sewers are the biggest ticket item in Akron’s proposed $218 million budget — up slightly from last year’s budget of $208 million — surpassing spending in every other category, including transportation, parks and recreation, housing and community services and public facilities.
Akron City Council will conduct public hearings on the proposed budget at the Planning Committee meeting at 2:30 p.m. Monday and during the regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday. Council is expected to vote on the capital budget Feb. 11.
Akron is proposing to spend $37 million on the Goodyear and Bridgestone projects this year, about $50 million less than in 2011. City officials expect to finish the public improvements tied to Bridgestone America’s new technical center this year, while continuing the improvements in the area surrounding Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s new headquarters and spending less than in either of the past two years. Both projects are being paid with a combination of state, county, private and city funds, with Akron’s resources mostly devoted to public improvements, such as new streets and road improvements.
“It’s nice to see our Bridgestone commitment completed and that we are finishing our commitment to Goodyear,” said Mark Moore, Akron’s strategic initiatives division manager.
Akron’s commitment to its sewer upgrades, which are being done to settle a federal environmental lawsuit, won’t be lessening anytime soon. The city plans to devote $890 million to the project over the next 18 years.
“It’s going to be a lot each year,” Deputy Mayor Rick Merolla said.
The last sewer rate increase City Council approved began this month, raising the average monthly sewer bill to $45 a month, up from $25 since 2010. A study this year will determine how much more rates need to be raised to pay for the remainder of the project.
U.S. District Judge John Adams is expected to rule soon on a proposed agreement involving Akron, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio EPA to correct Akron’s sewer overflows by 2027. The city’s combined sewer/storm sewer system has been fouling the Cuyahoga and Little Cuyahoga rivers and the Ohio & Erie Canal with untreated sewage for decades.
The sewer work proposed for 2013 includes plans for a giant tunnel that will be built downtown next year, several sewer separations, improvements to the Mud Run Pump Station and the inspection of 20 miles of sewer using sonar technology.
Councilman Jeff Fusco, who chairs the Planning Committee, pointed out that Akron’s federal funding for capital projects has been decreasing steadily. It dropped from about $18 million last year to about $11.8 million this year. He said the city received $67 million in federal funds in 2006.
“That’s a big hit,” he said.
Here are some details on various capital projects:
Goodyear: Reconstruction and sewer improvements to Englewood Avenue; dismantling and decommissioning the Goodyear Power Plant; continuation of the creation of a new street, Seiberling Way, from Eagle Street to Massillon Road; and resurfacing Massillon Road from Penthley Avenue to Triplett Boulevard. This will complete work to Massillon from Triplett to East Market Street. Cost: $32 million in state, Akron and private developer funds.
Bridgestone: Plans for improvements to Firestone Parkway from Wilbeth Road to Firestone Boulevard, including resurfacing, sidewalks, curbs, inlets and street lighting; resurfacing Wilbeth Road from Dallas Avenue to Interstate 77, including updating street lights, replacing curbs, a decorative wall and trees. The city previously resurfaced Wilbeth from Manchester Road to Dallas. Cost: $5.2 million in Akron and state funds and assessments to property owners.
East Market Street: Signalization upgrade/fiber optic run from state Route 8 to Arlington Street. Cost: $1.2 million in federal and Akron funds.
Central interchange: Plans to reconfigure the interchange, though the project might not be imminent. Cost: $1 million in state funds.
Interstate 76/Interstate 77 Main/Broadway interchange: Plans to reconstruct the interchange. The state recently closed the Wolf Ledges Parkway ramp. Cost: $2.9 million in state funds.
State Route 59: Resurfacing, repairs and bridge rehabilitation. Cost: $9.8 million in state funds and a small amount from assessments to property owners.