Ohio Supreme Court could decide stormwater fee case

by Laura Freeman | Reporter Published:

Hudson -- The Ohio Supreme Court will hear a case regarding the Regional Stormwater Management Program Sept. 9 and decide whether customers of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District will pay a stormwater fee.

The high court agreed to hear the NEORSD's appeal on whether the district is authorized to manage stormwater and impose a fee, and whether the district is authorized to create and implement a regional stormwater management program and charge for it.

Several NEORSD customers, including the city of Hudson, filed a court challenge to the sewer district's authority to establish the stormwater program and fee in 2010.

Hudson, Macedonia, Northfield Village, Richfield Village and Sagamore Hills Township approved a settlement agreement with NEORSD in 2012. They agreed to the stormwater fee, averaging $15.15 per quarter for NEORSD homeowner, with a portion of the money collected to be used on projects in their communities. These communities are not part of the appeal.

But if the Ohio Supreme Court affirms the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals' decision not to allow the stormwater charge, NEORSD won't implement the program and those communities, along with the 11 Cuyahoga County communities who filed the appeal in 2012, won't pay a stormwater 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.

Frank Greenland, director of watershed programs for the NEORSD, said the district began collecting the stormwater fee January 2012 with 25 percent placed in a community share account for local stormwater work.

"Anything related to good stormwater activities could receive funds," Greenland said. "Communities could apply and be reimbursed for projects. That ended with the appeals court ruling."

NEORSD begun work on the stormwater program in 2013.

"We were moving into the design phase for Macedonia along Indian Creek and a couple locations where erosion along the stream was exposing a sanitary sewer running under the stream," Greenland said. The project is on hold depending on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

If NEORSD wins the Ohio Supreme Court decision, it will start up the program again. If NEORSD loses the case, the approximate $20 million in escrow will be returned to customers who paid the stormwater fee with interest in a direct reimbursement of a check, he said.

Hudson has not received any funds from NEORSD, according to Hudson Communications Manager Jody Roberts.

"It's my understanding that there would be a reimbursement for our projects after their completion, but everything was on hold pending the court case," Roberts said.

The city inserted a projected amount in the city budgets going forward in anticipation of funds from NEORSD, but has not started any projects, she said.

"Obviously, if they lose the case and cannot collect fees, we would have to re-evaluate current and future projects and funding, which would come from the general fund," Roberts said. "These would have been additional projects that we would have been able to move up in our time line with extra funding, but it is not a 'loss' of current funding."

Email: lfreeman@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9434

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