Sewer problems, lacking glamor and difficult to resolve, are rarely ones politicians rush to embrace. Thus, credit must go to Summit County officials for commissioning a study of the flat rate some of its sewer customers (mostly, those using wells) have been paying, under protest, for years. The analysis provides support for certain customers (about 3,800 of the 10,000 paying the flat rate) who say they have been overcharged. Those living in one- and two-bedroom homes could see a monthly break of about $7 in the flat rate of $62.22 a month.
But a rate study and adjustment expected next year will have to find a way to make up for the lost revenue. Ideas under discussion include creating a higher flat rate for larger homes, charging metered customers a minimum monthly fee regardless of water usage and charging metered customers about $1.26 more per month.
Itís important to note that the county is tackling the issue in response to customer complaints, with no federal mandate or court order looming. Itís also important to cite that the small decrease some county customers may get will be overwhelmed by larger increases because the county is itself a customer of the city of Akron and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.
Akron must launch major upgrades (and rate increases) to prevent contaminated storm runoff from flowing into the Cuyahoga River and its tributaries. Meanwhile, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District soon will impose a storm water management fee on property owners in the northern part of the county.
The situation with storm water is particularly complicated because of the number of players involved, including local communities, county engineers and regional sewer districts. In Summit County, many local communities charge a fee for storm water projects. County Engineer Alan Brubaker has advanced a plan to create a storm water utility (and charge a fee). Besides the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District is funding studies of flooding in the southern part of the county.
All of which underscores the lack of a unified approach to dealing with storm water and sewer problems. For too long, the region has tolerated a piecemeal approach, one communityís solution too often becoming a problem for those living downstream. What must evolve is a more cooperative and more effective approach based on watersheds, not artificial political boundaries that have nothing to do with drainage patterns.