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Village stormwater utility defeated in referendum election

November 9, 2011
By Richard Sberna
A proposed stormwater utility was defeated by voters in Poland Village on Tuesday. The ordinance, which has been the subject of a contentious referendum debate in the village for more than a year, went down by a 58 to 42 percent margin.

Joe Mazur, president of village council, said that the future of several proposed programs to alleviate flooding and improve water quality in the village are in jeopardy now. “We’ll have to discuss it in council, and we’ll have to figure out what to do.”

Opposition to the utility ordinance was based upon a perceived unfairness in the method of assessment and collecting the fees. The original stormwater utility ordinance, which would have capped fees for non-residential properties, was replaced by a nearly identical ordinance with no limit on non-commercial fees.

The fee structure of original ordinance was $3.50 per month for homes, regardless of size. For non-residential properties, fee was determined by the amount of impervious surface, such as roofs, parking lots and other areas where water can’t be absorbed into the ground and instead runs into the storm sewers. This amount is measured in ERUs, or equivalent residential units, of 2,500 square feet each. The non-residential cost was $3.50 per ERU per month, but capped at five ERUs, equal to a total 12,500 square feet, even if the property contained more than that amount of impervious surfaces.

The second ordinance was essentially the same, including the $3.50 monthly fee for all residences, but it abandoned the five ERU cap, thereby increasing potential fees for properties with more impervious surface area.

“It’s poor way of assessing, in my estimation,” said Ted Heineman, a member of the Committee to Defeat SWUP, whose efforts were rewarded yesterday’s voting. The group was formed in January and circulated a petition, which gained enough signatures to have the ordinance put to a referendum vote. Heineman’s group also objected to the fact that non-profit non-residential properties including schools, churches and the public library would also have been subject to fees.

In reply, Mazur said, “The rain falls on the whole village,” including those non-business properties. The large roofs and parking lots of the schools, libraries and church contribute large amounts of runoff that tax the existing stormwater sewers.

Mazur also cited the existing storm sewers in the village as being worn out and inadequate to handle the tremendous growth that Poland has seen in recent years. “The infrastructure of the storm sewers is ancient; it’s falling apart.” In addition to flooding yards, he says the overburdened system eventually overflows into sanitary sewers, which eventually back up.

Besides the likely cancellation of new projects, Mazur says some existing stormwater abatement measures, such as leaf pick-up, may also fade away. “The [leaf collection] machinery is old and worn-out, and due to cutbacks and the elimination of government funding sources, funds for the street department are scarce.”

Mazur said that the village’s oft-cited “rainy day fund” is for the operation of the village, not special projects, such planned new storm sewers on Botsford Road and Ohio Avenue. He says the village has already had to dip into the fund to cover recent budgetary shortfalls and state funding cuts. With the elimination of estate taxes in 2013, a primary source of revenue for the village will disappear, making the money in the fund even more critical.

“We’ll have to regroup and hope for the best,” Mazur said. “We’ll have to figure out how we can fix the problems as they arise, and that is not proactive.”



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