Monday, January 20, 2003

Towns face storm water deadline

Joining county effort is cheaper for most

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Most western Hamilton County communities are expected to vote soon to join the county's storm water district, a change that would help comply with federal anti-pollution rules but also could lead to higher property taxes.

The goal of the district is to decrease the health risks of tainted storm water. Costs to each community vary widely, from several thousand dollars a year to more than $20,000.

"It's frustrating," said Gwen McFarlin, Springfield Township trustees chairwoman. "But because it's good for the overall health of the county, it's important to get something in place and be in compliance."

Storm water health risks include lawn fertilizers, pesticides and illegal dumping of petroleum-related products into storm drains.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set a March 10 deadline for communities to decide how to comply. Communities will have to more closely monitor storm runoff, put up markings on catch basins, and possibly fine intentional offenders. Noncompliance could lead to hefty fines.

Two communities, Mount Healthy and North College Hill, have votes on the issue coming up Tuesday.

Two factors are combining to push municipalities to join the county system.

The regulations amount to an unfunded federal mandate, part of the second phase of the U.S. Clean Air Act. Communities have little choice but to comply, whether they join the regional system or not.

For most, going with the county's regional district is significantly cheaper than going it alone.

Some communities, including Springfield Township, have already voted to join. Forest Park, which already has a storm-water utility system, has opted out. Crosby Township is exempt because it is outside the urban core of the county.

Mount Healthy and North College Hill are expected to vote to join Tuesday.

"It would be very expensive for us to undertake this by ourselves, being a small community with a modest budget," James Koshmider, Mount Healthy safety/service director, said Friday. "So it makes a lot of sense to combine resources. We're going to have to bite the bullet. ... You complain, but the clock keeps ticking."

Mount Healthy estimates its cost to join at $2,500 the first year and $3,200 in 2004, Mr. Koshmider said.

"It's a bureaucratic nightmare, and I think we're all victims of that," said Tom Bryan, a trustee in Springfield Township, which voted Jan. 14 to join. "It's strictly to save money. If you're alone, shame on you if you do something wrong, intentional or not."

The cost to the township: About $21,500 per year. "That's half a policeman or fireman, roughly speaking," Mr. Bryan said.

Greenhills Municipal Manager David Moore said the decision to join is a no-brainer for smaller communities.

"The intent is good. But it's going to have to end up costing taxpayers money."

Communities can pay the regional district through their general funds for the first two years, but might be forced to add the costs to property taxes in subsequent years.


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