NORTON: William Paluch doesn’t know how much of an $8 million sewer project proposed for his neighborhood will come out of his pocket, but the Nash Heights homeowner said he has been told his share could be in excess of $20,000.
It’s a figure that motivates him to stand at the city’s busiest intersection during the afternoon rush every day, buried behind a sign nearly as tall as he, pleading with voters to pass Issue 1 on Tuesday.
“I think it’s possible for the city to pay for the sewers and not touch the Police Department,” said Paluch, referring to the city’s warning of widespread layoffs should Issue 1 pass.
Meanwhile, Mayor Mike Zita also has been hitting the streets, knocking on doors and pleading with voters to reject Issue 1.
“I’ll walk right up till Tuesday,” said Zita, who is convinced Issue 1 is so sweeping, it would “destroy” his city by consuming half of its operating budget.
The debate has divided the city for weeks, and there are probably few people in town who don’t have an opinion one way or the other. What remains to be seen is whether those passions will get people to the polls on a day when it’s the only topic on the Norton ballot.
“We already know the people who want to vote yes will be out to vote,” Zita said. “I believe the people who drew up this charter amendment called for a special election hoping people against it wouldn’t come out.
“But if we can get the voters out to vote, I think it will be a pretty good race,” Zita said.
In a nutshell, Issue 1 would end property tax assessments for water and sewer lines, end tap-in fees and cap water and sewer bills for residents at $35 a month, with a maximum increase of 2 percent a year.
The chief advocates are residents of Nash Heights, where aging septic systems from some of the 255 or so homes are discharging waste into local streams. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency told the city a bacteria sampling of Hudson Run and tributaries to Lake Dorothy in June showed unhealthy levels of E. coli and ordered a fix. Norton proposed an $8 million sewer project.
Homeowners in the project area were told they would have to pony up about one-third of the cost.
“Thirty-three percent is an estimate,” Zita said. “Council hasn’t given us a price structure.”
Paluch is skeptical about who is going to pay the balance of that cost.
“There is no grant money available,” Paluch said. “Homeowners are going to pick up 100 percent of the tab.”
Zita said he won’t quibble with the fact that residents of Norton are going to pay the full amount.
The city budget “is the citizens’ money,” he said. “We’re not picking the money off a money tree.”
However, the city’s two-thirds share will not be assessed directly to the Nash Heights property owners, he said.
Instead, about two-thirds of the $8 million project would be paid out of the city budget and from a “trunk line fund” established a few years ago, Zita said. The city has been putting half a million dollars a year into the fund in anticipation of the project.
Basically, Nash Heights residents would pay the cost of an 8-inch pipeline that runs along their street, while the city would pay for the 24-inch collector pipes, pipes that pass through intersections and other rights-of-way, and for the pump stations that move the waste through areas where gravity isn’t getting the job done.
Residents also would be required to pay to tap into the line and, noted by Paluch, would have additional expenses associated with closing off or removing existing septic systems.
But Issue 1 addresses more than current and future sewer and water projects.
It mandates that Norton pay off about $3.3 million in interest and principal for bonds from previous projects now funded through individual property-owner assessments.
Noting that the city’s budget is only $6 million, Zita said that would require the city to look for cost-cutting measures in other areas.
The Police Department has been held up as one area that would take a big hit — a suggestion that was enough to attract the attention of the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. Led by former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andrew Douglas, the OPBA came into town with a $500 check to help campaign against Issue 1.
Paluch said it’s wrong for the city to threaten voters with police cuts.
Instead, he said, the city should learn to be more efficient and stop “wasteful spending” habits.
“That’s what Norton is known for: wasteful spending,” he said.