MOUNT VERNON — As expected, city council members gave a second reading on Monday night to legislation authorizing a $300,000 transfer from its reserve account to pay for repairs to the Knox Cattle Company Dam on Yauger Road.
The surprise came when Councilman Chris Menapace moved to suspend Ordinance 2019-30 indefinitely. The ordinance amends the way the city handles penalties for stormwater violations.
Under the current code, individuals move from having no violation to being processed as a criminal offense. Law Director Rob Broeren said the amended ordinance “offers the opportunity for an intermediate sanction” by allowing the city to place a lien on the individual's property in the amount of the unpaid penalties. It also increases the daily penalty from $200 for a single-family residential site and $200 per acre for all other sites to $500 to $1,000 per acre or portion thereof.
Menapace said he recommended tabling the ordinance indefinitely for three reasons:
- Some of the numbers were “pretty aggressive.”
- The current legislation is only five years old, and nothing has developed to demand changes.
- The public perception that the city is moving “too much, too fast” on issues related to a stormwater utility.
“With all of the stuff we have cooking relative to storm water, I think this is just another moving part that, quite frankly, we shouldn't be tackling at this point,” he said.
Broeren responded that there is a “specific and ongoing situation” that the amended ordinance addresses. The situation relates to stormwater violations with the Colonial Woods Condo Association on Upper Gilchrist Road.
"In fact, we received an action letter from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for a number of violations they have there," he said. “So this was actually the impetus for moving ahead with this legislation at this time, even though as Mr. Menapace correctly stated, there are lots of other moving parts. But we believe this is necessary because of the issues we are having with that developer.”
“We have issued fines in excess of $20,000. They have not paid those fines,” said City Engineer Brian Ball. “They have hired lawyers who said our ordinance isn't good enough, and they are not going to pay our fines. So we are responding to their specific statements of our deficiencies in our ordinance to protect us because the EPA offered to issue us a significant fine if we didn't enforce against them.”
Ball said that by not passing the amendment ordinance, the city is taking a risk if the developer again violates stormwater compliance.
“The next time the EPA won't be as nice,” he said.
The maximum the EPA can fine the city is $25,000 a day.
Councilman Mike Hillier was surprised to learn the amended ordinance was not directed at homeowners who could potentially be responsible for paying for the Knox Cattle Company Dam.
“It wasn't directed at people in that room? Why didn't somebody get up and say that?” he asked, referring to the public meeting held earlier in the evening at The Station Break. “I thought until just now that this was to put some teeth into it so that we could go after these people with the dam situation. And the people in the room were thinking that. I just wish that somebody would have stepped up and said, 'well this is not totally what this is about.'”
During the public meeting, resident Dennis Swingle read Ordinance 2019-30 to the audience.
“Once the legislation was read, there could have been a lot of angst put to bed if somebody in this room in the administration would have stood up and said, 'hold on a minute, this is not what we are talking about,'” said Menapace.
Most of the other council members also were surprised the ordinance amendment had nothing to do with the cattle dam repairs.
“To me, any time we can avoid litigation and handle it in a civil manner, as long as there is an appropriate appeals process, I think this is something that ultimately benefits citizens, none of whom want to have a misdemeanor hanging on their record,” said Councilman Sam Barone.
“We need to take the legislation to a third reading so that we can clarify this. Do you think anybody in that room thought we are facing a major violation of $20,000 and that there's an EPA enforcement action?”
After further discussion, Barone made a motion to amend tabling the ordinance to a date certain rather than suspend it indefinitely. The amendment carried with Menapace and Councilwoman Nancy Vail dissenting.
Council then passed a motion to suspend the ordinance's second reading to Sept. 9. Menapace again dissented.
Council also took the following action:
- Postponed the third reading of a resolution authorizing the transfer of $5,000 from the city's reserve fund to the Area Development Foundation for ADF work on the city's behalf. Barone postponed the reading so that ADF President Jeff Harris could be present.
- Authorized the Ohio Department of Transportation to conduct bridge inspections at no cost to the city
- Authorized ODOT to replace a guardrail that no longer meets federal standards at no cost to the city
- Authorized the safety-service director to bid for services and supplies
- Authorized fund transfers and bill payment
- Gave a first reading to legislation authorizing engineering services for water/wastewater work in the Buckeye Addition and Parrott Street
- Gave a first reading to legislation adopting the Tax Incentive Review Council's recommendations: continue exemptions for the Woodward Development Corp., Ariel Corp., Owens Corning Insulating Systems, Pisces Properties LLC (Replex Plastics), Chesterland Productions PLL (Sanoh America) and cancel the exemption for Jacob Motorsports.
- Gave a first reading to legislation to bid and contract for sludge removal
- Gave a second reading to legislation giving a 2% raise for years 2020-23 for the mayor, auditor, and law director positions
Council went into executive session at 9:03 pm to discuss compensation. No action was taken out of executive session.