NORTON: Voters rejected a measure Tuesday that would have eliminated the city’s ability to charge homeowners for a costly and imperative sewer project.
“I think it’s unrealistic to have the city pay for it. I don’t want to pay for it, but I don’t want to bankrupt the city,” Norton resident Cheryl Goliath said.
Goliath voted at the Norton Community Center, near the site of a future $8 million sewer project that has been proposed to address aging septic systems that have discharged waste into local streams.
Goliath and about 1,800 Norton other voters fended off a late surge in the results as the measure, showing strong early resistance, was defeated by a margin of less than 3.5 percent, according to unofficial results from the Summit County Board of Elections.
Among those pushing for the measure to succeed was Tom Kornas, who leaned against his white work truck outside the community center. Lying next to him was a sign urging voters to vote for Issue 1.
Kornas said city officials used “fear-mongering” tactics to defeat the issue. He said the cuts to the police department that administrators had promised would not have followed passage of Tuesday’s sole ballot issue — a call to require the city, not homeowners, be held responsible for additional water and sewer projects.
City leadership had said passage would exacerbate Norton’s tight budget.
Noting that Norton’s budget is only $6 million, officials had said the sweeping nature of Issue 1 would devastate the city and lead to deep cuts, including widespread layoffs in the police department.
Kornas also said he was advocating for older citizens, like himself, who cannot afford tax increases.
“I’m out here saying the people are cash-strapped,” said Kornas, 61, adding that his property taxes probably will jump 20 percent or more.
Kornas, who initiated Issue 1, had gathered signatures for the ballot measure along with other residents of Nash Heights. The neighborhood of 255 homes has been blamed for unhealthy levels of E. coli that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency found in Hudson Run and tributaries leading to Lake Dorothy.
The sewer project is the city’s response to an EPA mandate that the problem be fixed.
Homeowners have been told they would have to pay about one-third of the cost of replacing their septic systems with sanitary sewers. With the additional cost of tap-in fees and removal of their existing septic systems, some property owners have been told to brace for bills that could exceed $20,000 per home.
Sticker shock led to the formation of a citizens group that collected enough signatures to put Issue 1 on the ballot.
In addition to ending property tax assessments for water and sewer lines, Issue 1 sought to 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.
Passage also would have mandated that the city pay off about $3.3 million in interest and principal for bonds from previous projects in Norton funded through individual property-owner assessments.
Earlier Tuesday, Kim Zurz, deputy director of the Summit County Board of Elections, said voting was proceeding smoothly after a minor glitch at one voting site in the city.
She said one of the five polling locations didn’t open by the 6:30 a.m. start because a poll worker was a few minutes late.
The board did receive some complaints about people campaigning near voting locations — for or against the charter change — but officials said they did not observe anyone who violated the 100-foot boundary.
The board deployed extra staff at the two largest polling locations in case problems arose, and other employees moved back and forth to the other three voting spots.
Zurz and Joe Masich, the board’s director, visited each of the sites.
The Norton charter measure was the only non-school issue on a ballot in the five-county Akron area.
The Ohio secretary of state’s office said 28 issues were decided statewide in 23 counties.
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.