Petition challenges Falls storm water fee

NEWTON FALLS – The wording of an ordinance enacting a storm water utility fee are at the center of a new referendum petition signed by 214 residents and submitted to the village Tuesday.

After two heavy rain storms left residents across the village coping with shallow lakes for front yards and flooded basements last year, the village council decided to take action to improve the storm water system.

“More than one person called in and said do something,” Village Manager Jack Haney said.

The fix? A June 16 ordinance creating a storm water utility fee to be used for upgrading the village’s storm water lines, re-grading land and creating catch basins, among other over-saturation solutions.

For single family residences the fee is $3 per month, while multi-family dwellings cost $6 or $10 per month depending on the number of units.

Resident Jim Luonuansuu, who is spearheading the referendum, said the cost of the fees is not what concerns the petitioners, rather the lack of a fee cap and the use of monies collected for administrative services are at the heart of their disagreement.

“One hundred percent of the money should go towards fixing the storm system,” Luonuansuu said, “not towards paying for any administration.”

Monday morning the village posted a copy of the ordinance to their Facebook Page along with several quick facts about the legislation, including:

“This will be a separate fund which cannot be used for other purposes. This is a ‘bricks and mortar’ fund with specific uses as outlined in the ordinance. Administration charges would be for nominal office and bidding requirements.

“The rate was approved by council in open sessions. These rates cannot be changed without council taking action in open sessions where public input is provided for.”

Luonuansuu said he fears council will be able to pass increases on the rate without a vote of the people and would prefer to see a cap added to the ordinance’s wording or a scheduled system for determining step increases if necessary on the fees.

The petition will be held by the village for ten days before being turned over to the Trumbull County Board of Elections to verify that at least 141 signatures are valid. From here, village clerk Kathy King must certify the sufficiency and validity of the petition to the board of elections.

Another separate petition for a referendum concerning the village’s tax forgiveness has been returned to King after the board of elections certified 275 of 379 signatures as valid. This referendum demands a restoration of the tax credit – up to 1 percent – given to people paying income tax into another municipality where they work.

A similar referendum attempt was squelched in 2012 when King, under the city’s legal direction, determined the tax forgiveness repeal was an administrative action and not one that should be voted on by the residents.

Werner Lange who is spearheading the new referendum has filed a writ of mandamus insisting King certify the new referendum for the ballot in November.

As of Tuesday, King said she is waiting on legal advice from village attorney Joe Fritz on how to proceed. Fritz said he expects to have advice for the city by Tuesday.