The Summit County Council is considering the creation of a countywide group to address stormwater issues in communities across the county.

The council’s committee of the whole this week approved giving a second reading at its meeting Monday to a recommendation from the nine-member Charter Review Commission. The resolution, if passed, would put the issue on the November ballot for voters to decide if they want to amend the county charter to create the Storm Water Management Commission.

The council, which is on recess for all of July, will discuss it and vote on it at future meetings. Members have to make a decision by Aug. 7, the filing deadline for November ballot issues.

Jeff Snell, an attorney who served on the review commission, said there are 15 stormwater watersheds in Summit County, where each of the 31 cities, townships and villages do something different when it comes to stormwater management.

Many charge their residents a monthly stormwater utility fee, like Munroe Falls ($3), Stow ($5) and Silver Lake ($8), while many of the communities in the northern part of the county are part of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, which operates primarily in Cuyahoga County, and pay the district between roughly $2 and $9 based on how much impervious surface area they have, like rooftops, driveways and patios.

“The water has no jurisdictional line,” Snell said. “We don't have a comprehensive [countywide] system.”

The stormwater commission would work on a watershed-based stormwater management plan, Snell said. It would be made up of the county executive, county engineer and County Council president, plus five other county electors, including a representative each from the county's mayors and township associations.

According to Snell, the county is on its fifth version of stormwater management plans, dating back to a 1996 County Council resolution to reinvent stormwater management in the county.

"Twenty-three years later, we don't have a county system,” he said.

In November 2014, voters defeated a proposed sales tax, a percentage of which would have gone to stormwater management.

Jason Dodson, chief of staff to the Summit County executive, said the county engineer’s office previously put together a countywide stormwater management plan applying to both municipalities and townships.

But the county prosecutor’s office decided although the county likely has the authority to impose a stormwater fee in the townships, it doesn’t have the authority to impose it countywide without making it voluntary because of home rule. Dodson said even if voters were to approve creating the commission through the charter this fall, that legal hurdle would remain in place.

The county's most recent stormwater plan is the Summit County Engineer’s Office's Surface Water Management District, which county council approved in September 2017 to alleviate runoff and flooding issues. So far, the only community that’s signed up for the voluntary stormwater utility at $4 a month for residents is Bath, where surveying the streams and ditches draining into the Yellow Creek watershed was its first step.

Snell, who called it “a siloed program,” emphasized the stormwater commission idea is not “anti-engineer."

"We have to address this issue as a county,” said Snell, adding that communities working together could figure out where water is coming from to determine where fixes could be made.

Snell called funding “the elephant in here” but said those involved would need to get together to talk before determining what funding would look like.

District 3 council member Gloria Rodgers said the commission would be “cluttering up the charter” and could be set up outside of it.

“I do not see any cities joining this,” she said, adding communities want to control their own laws and how their money is used.

Rodgers said the county should also wait to see what happens with Senate Bill 2, which would create a statewide planning structure for watershed programs to be implemented by local soil and water conservation districts.

District 7 council member Bethany McKenney said she wanted time to talk to mayors and residents and look at what other counties are doing.

“I'm open-minded to this,” she said. “I'm not against it or for it.”

Dodson and Heidi Swindell with the Summit County Engineer’s Office both said their respective offices would prefer to see the commission created legislatively with an ordinance rather than in the charter.

Snell said the commission could be done through an ordinance but said that would be a mistake.

“I think this is the only way to bring all the parties together to really intensely study this and figure out a plan to make it work,” Snell said. “We will all find value in this, all of us as a county."

 

Contact reporter Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, emills@thebeaconjournal.com and @EmilyMills818.