A special public hearing concerning the Poland Village Stormwater Utility, which is the subject of ordinance on the upcoming Nov. 8 ballot, was held Oct. 26 at the village hall.
Poland Village Council hosted the meeting to answer questions from village residents and as an opportunity to set the record straight regarding what council members consider distortions from opponents of the measure.
Council President Joe Mazur opened the meeting by emphasizing the fundamentals of the utility, as spelled out in a brochure being circulated in support of the measure. He said that the utility will cost Poland homeowners $3.50 month, which works out to $42 per year, not $42 per month as has been rumored. He also firmly stated that the fee could not be raised in the future without holding additional public hearings and passing another, separate ordinance.
The stormwater rate for non-residential properties will be $3.50 per 2,500 square feet of impervious surface, where water cannot be absorbed into the ground and cause runoff into storm sewers. These areas include parking lots, rooftops, walkways and driveways.
Mayor Tim Sicafuse said that a yes vote will not produce a new ordinance, but prevent the repeal of one that is already law. He also assured people that all funds collected by the utility can go only to address stormwater issues. Rich DeLuca, a former stormwater utility manager for Struthers, related his own experience with such measures, saying, “This is not a tax; this is a usage fee, like with sewage.”
DeLuca also explained that such measures are necessary to meet federal and state environmental regulations to reduce pollution in stormwater runoff, particularly from impervious surfaces.
“This wasn’t our idea,” council member Bob Limmer said of the EPA mandates the utility would address. But DeLuca reminded everyone of the common goal behind the mandates. “We all want drinkable, fishable, swimmable water,” he said.
The stormwater utility would be responsible for repair or replacement of existing infrastructure, including drainage pipes and catch basins, as well as new improvements to the system, plus maintenance actions like street sweeping and cleanup of autumn leaves, which clog the system. Councilman Bill Dunnavant admitted that some of the planned projects are expensive, but that government matching grants are available to communities that have an established stormwater utility district.
Village residents at the meeting included Patty Fithian of Botsford Street, who was one of many who asked if the project would help to correct chronic flooding problems in her neighborhood. Gary Diorio of MS Consultants replied that eliminating flooding was a core part of reducing water pollutants in order to meet EPA requirements, as well as improving conditions for residents. She was pleased with the answer, and was further encouraged to hear that Botsford and Ohio Avenue are slated to be first on the agenda when the projects begin.
The consensus of opinion from those who attended the meeting was very positive. Ralph Mentzer of Audubon Lane spoke highly of the process undertaken by council. A former director of Mahoning County Economic and Community Development, where he oversaw all of the county’s grant-writing, Mentzer said that government and regional agencies are more willing to assist areas that have stormwater utilities already in place.
“They’ve done everything right,” he said.
The exception may be council’s promotion of the utility. George Mitzell of College Street told council that he was ready to vote against the measure until that evening’s meeting. He said that what he heard changed his mind, but that council needed to do more outreach with residents. Joseph Ohr of College Street agreed, saying that he believed the measure was a new tax based on what he’s read and heard. He suggested that the misunderstanding stemmed from a disconnect between council and village residents.
Mayor Sicafuse replied that there have been several public hearings on the measure already, but that council members would do what was necessary, including going door-to-door in the village, to spread the word and set the record straight.