You can’t mow your neighbor’s property, no matter how unsightly, without permission. And your neighbor can’t mow yours.
But property owners who live next to reservoirs that supply drinking water almost received the right to mow the city-owned land around those reservoirs.
A last-minute amendment added to the recently passed two-year state budget would have stripped the right of cities to control the land around their reservoirs, allowing abutting property owners to mow the buffer zone cities often use for plants, trees and shrubs to help protect reservoirs from pesticides and herbicides that can contaminate water.
“It was the strangest thing I ever read,” said John Moore, Akron’s public service director. “You [would] have the right to mow your neighbor’s property. Who does that? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Moore and Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, joined by state Sen. Tom Sawyer and Rep. Vernon Sykes, who represent Akron, raised a loud ruckus about the amendment, which made it into the final version of the budget that hit Gov. John Kasich’s desk.
Kasich agreed with the outcry, though, and shaved the amendment out of the budget with one of several line-item vetoes he executed.
City and state officials from the Akron area, who were pleased about Kasich’s veto, were still frustrated that such a pivotal issue nearly made it into the budget with almost no discussion or testimony from those who would have been affected.
“That’s not the way the budget ought to be made,” said Sawyer, D-Akron, who unsuccessfully attempted to have the reservoir amendment removed in the conference committee that hashed out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget. “That’s not the way policy ought to be made that has long-term consequences.”
State Rep. Kris Jordan, a Republican from Ostrander in Delaware County, which is home to the reservoir that provides water to Columbus, proposed the amendment. He said during budget debates that property owners should be permitted to do things an “average person would consider basic maintenance for their property,” according to a recent Columbus Dispatch story.
Jordan didn’t return a phone message Tuesday seeking comment.
Columbus officials, like those in Akron, weren’t pleased about the amendment and also spoke out against it.
Moore said cities don’t want to lose the ability to control the land around the reservoir. Natural barriers provide a less costly way of protecting drinking water than adding chemicals to strip out contaminants that could reach reservoirs.
“We keep that natural for a reason,” Moore said.
Kasich agreed with that argument, saying in his veto explanation that “contaminants pose threats to the quality and safety of public water supplies.” He suggested more debate was needed before such a change in the law was made.
“Striking the proper balance between the concerns of property owners bordering waterways affected by this item and the public health, environmental and taxpayer cost issues addressed by buffer zones requires a more thorough process than this item allows,” Kasich wrote. “Therefore, the veto of this item is in the public interest.”
Sawyer, a longtime politician who has served at the local, state and federal levels, thinks the reservoir amendment points to a bigger problem that needs to be addressed: legislators slipping policy language into the budget.
By his estimate, the approximately 5,500-page budget bill contains 500 pages that address the actual budget. The rest involves policy changes that, had they been part of separate legislation, would have received the benefit of feedback from interested groups.
“We ought to step back and review the way we make budget law,” Sawyer said. “It was never intended to be a substitute for the lawmaking powers of the General Assembly.”