the Beacon Journal editorial board
There is good news these days from Norton, of all places, a city with a well-deserved reputation for political infighting and opposition to development. City officials now are pointing to a recent bond rating upgrade and an award from the state auditorís office as evidence they have turned the corner toward a more prosperous economic future. One of the key reasons behind the turnaround is that the city has embraced regionalism, or the idea that communities can work together to save money and improve services.
As reported last week by Paula Schleis, a Beacon Journal staff writer, Fitch Ratings has upped its long-term rating two notches, from A+ to AA, on the cityís general obligation debt and issued a stable outlook for all ratings. More, Dave Yost, the state auditor, has issued Norton a Taxpayer Hero Award for the creation of a regional dispatching center (with Barberton and Copley Township) and meeting new financial health indicators.
Fitch Ratings pointed to the importance of the long-awaited sewer agreement finalized last year between Norton and Barberton, under which Barberton took over and will expand sewer lines in the smaller city. Beyond bringing service to Nash Heights, where aging septic systems created a public health hazard, the sewer agreement sets the stage for growth in Norton, badly needed to expand the cityís tax base.
The agreement represents a significant advance in regionalism, with Barberton gaining customers and revenue to support its sewer system and Norton expanding opportunities for new businesses, especially along major roadways.
Yost, meanwhile, recognized Barberton, Norton and Copley Township for working together to create a merged dispatching center (located in Norton) for emergency services. The first step was to create the Southwest Summit Council of Governments, made up of representatives from the three communities. Besides reducing costs, the new dispatching center promises better service to emergency callers.
The council also provided an avenue for more regional projects. One of the most far-reaching is an agreement to form the Wolf Creek Watershed Conservancy District to address flooding problems in all three communities, a wise recognition that flood control is best planned according to watershed, not political, boundaries. The districtís projects for flood control and wetlands improvement would avoid merely pushing excess water farther downstream, as happens when local communities move forward on their own projects without comprehensive planning.
Nortonís willingness to work with other local governments should be a reminder to surrounding communities about the value in looking to join with their neighbors. With local governments caught in a squeeze between spending reductions from the state and voter resistance to local tax increases, regionalism offers a win-win situation.
As Norton and its neighbors have shown, increased efficiency saves taxpayer money while also providing higher levels of service. It may seem surprising, but Norton is setting a positive example.