Ohio Supreme Court agrees to hear sewer district's appeal

by Laura Freeman | Reporter Published:

The Ohio Supreme Court will decide whether customers of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District will pay a stormwater fee.

The high court agreed Feb. 19 to hear the NEORSD's appeal of an appeals court ruling concerning the Regional Stormwater Management Program. It will decide whether the district is authorized to manage stormwater and impose a charge, and whether the district is authorized to create and implement a regional stormwater management program and charge for it.

The Regional Stormwater Management Program is designed to address flooding, stream bank erosion and water quality issues throughout much of Northeast Ohio.

"We are pleased the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to hear this case which is of great public interest, not just to our region, but to all Ohioans," said Marlene Sundheimer, director of law for NEORSD. "We anticipate appearing before the Supreme Court for oral arguments this summer."

Hudson City Solicitor Todd Hunt said it will take at least two months to file briefs and several months to schedule oral arguments. It could be six to 12 months before a decision is made by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Several NEORSD customers, including the city of Hudson, first filed a court challenge to the sewer district's authority to establish the stormwater program and fee in 2010. Though some parties settled their complaint with the district in 2012, other parties appealed a trial court's ruling that same year allowing the fee.

In September 2013, the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's ruling that authorized the Sewer District's program, and ruled the Sewer District did not have the authority under Ohio Revised Code or its Charter to enact and implement the stormwater program or to collect its stormwater fee.

The NEORSD put the program on hold and stopped collecting stormwater fees for the program after the Court of Appeals decision.

The average NEORSD homeowner paid $15.15 per quarter for the stormwater fee, according to Jennifer Elting, public information specialist for NEORSD. Fees collected since January 2012 total $20 million and were placed in an interest-bearing escrow account, Elting said.

If NEORSD loses its appeal, it would refund or credit any stormwater fees paid by its customers, she said. If NEORSD wins its case, it would begin billing for the stormwater fee but would not collect any fees in the suspended collection period.

Attorney Mark Guidetti in Macedonia Law Director Joe Diemert's law office said Macedonia and some of the other Summit County defendants entered a settlement agreement in August 2012 regarding the stormwater fee.

Macedonia, Hudson, Northfield Village, the Richfield Village and Sagamore Hills Township approved a settlement agreement with NEORSD in 2012, agreeing to the stormwater fee while guaranteeing a portion of the money would be used on projects in their communities. These communities are not part of the appeal case, which was filed by 11 Cuyahoga County communities. However, the settlement would be void if the Supreme Court of Ohio upholds the decision of the appeals court, according to Hunt.

If the Ohio Supreme Court affirms the District Court's decision, NEORSD won't implement the program and the citizens in all the communities won't be charged the stormwater fee, Guidetti said.

If the Ohio Supreme Court overturns the appeals court decision, it would not affect the agreement in the settlement case, Hunt said.

Customers with questions about their accounts can contact the Sewer District's Customer Service Department at 216-881-8247 or email Sewer District representatives at askus@neorsd.org.

Email: lfreeman@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9434

Facebook: Laura Freeman, Record Publishing

Twitter: @LauraFreeman_RP

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