COLUMBUS — When the ABC Water and Stormwater District started collecting stormwater fees more than a year ago, Boardman and Canfield residents shared their views.
They flooded meetings to rail against the board — made up of Austintown, Boardman and Canfield township administrators — claiming the fee on impervious surfaces on their properties was a tax they did not vote for supported by a similarly unelected entity.
The Canfield Fair Board took its disdain for the assessment, which costs the organization about $17,000 annually, to the Ohio Statehouse. House Bill 665 passed late last night.
The bottom of the 51st page of House Bill 665 reads: “The board of trustees of a regional water and sewer district may not charge rentals, assessments, or any other fees to real property exempt from taxation under section 5709.10 of the Revised Code that is owned by a county agricultural society.”
Any Ohio fairground within a city or village that levies a stormwater utility fee is required to pay the fee. The language exempts fairgrounds only within the bounds of water and sewer districts.
As a result, the provision applies to only a select few fairgrounds in the state. The only testimony offered in support of the provision came from the Canfield Fair, leading many to believe it was included specifically for the local fairgrounds.
The provision comes at an ideal time for the fair, as the fair board intends to build a new junior fair building in the coming year, a structure that would increase the fairground's $17,000 stormwater utility fee.
The stormwater utility fees ABC collects are based on the amount of impervious surface, such as roofs and parking lots, on a property. Fees collected from each township stay in the township, but because the townships watersheds and floodplains know no political boundaries, flood mitigation projects in one township often benefit all.
Canfield collects about $250,000 a year from stormwater utility fees. The fair’s $17,000 annual fee “represents a large chunk of the funding Canfield is able to use,” said Jason Loree, Boardman Township administrator and ABC board member.
It also reduces the amount of money the district is able to leverage for private funding and grants. For example, state and government entities offer matching grants, which allows the district to receive the amount of money it contributes.
Canfield board member Craig Myers argued the fair shouldn't have to pay the fee, because other entities, like Mill Creek Park, local schools and the turnpike, are exempt.
But Loree said Myers is misinformed. Parks pay. Schools pay.
"The only thing exempt from the fee is the turnpike,” said Loree.
Ohio Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown voted against the bill last night.
“Everyone pays. Churches pay, schools pay, homeowners pay. Everyone will have to continue paying, but the fair has an enormous square footage and runoff compared to average homeowners or commercial property owners, and they’re going to be exempt from it. They should really pay their fair — not any pun intended — fare,” said Lepore-Hagan.
Canfield fair board members also argue the fairgrounds does not flood into other properties. The green space cancels out the impervious surface, said Myers.
The pictures of Richard and Shawnee Williams' front yard at 7271 Fairgrounds Blvd. tell a different story. The photos and a letter by the Williamses were entered as testimony against the bill.
The Williamses' home is directly east of the fairgrounds. After last week's storm, their front yard flooded — as it does after significant rainfall, the couple said.
In fact, stormwater runoff from the property during a 10-year storm would fill a football field 36 feet deep, Loree said.
"[We] have lost flowers, mulch and other items, such as lawn ornaments purchased for improvement or enjoyment," they wrote. "Also, I have incurred cost for clean up as I'm left with piles of debris such as nutshells, branches, leaves and other sediment deposited."
The Williamses wrote they reached out to Fair Manager Bev Fisher and were told it was not the fair's problem.
Both the Mahoning County commissioners and the ABC Water and Stormwater District said they have tried to work with the fair board, but to no avail.
Mahoning County Commissioner David Ditzler said during a Thursday commissioners meeting said he feels the provision exempting the fairgrounds from the fee was unfair, and that the matter should be resolved locally.
"They probably get that from five french fry stands. I'm disappointed there hasn't been more discussion about this locally," he said. "They need to sit down and try to work things out locally, not pass a House bill that only impacts three fairs in the whole state."
State Rep. Gil Blair of Weathersfield is a Democrat on the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee — where HB 665 originated.
"I tried to push both ways for the parties to come to some form of resolution," said Blair. But, he added, "I would like to see this provision completely out of the bill."
On Thursday night, Rep. Alessandro Cutrona of Canfield, who was selected to fill the seat of late state Rep. Don Manning, voiced support for an amendment penned by Republicans.
The amendment requires fairs more than 250 acres to pay stormwater utility fees for a year, with the intent that the parties will work out a solution in the meantime.
Lepore-Hagan voted against both the amendment and the bill. She doesn't believe it will get worked out on the local level, since the fair board has not yet been cooperative with county commissioners.
"We’re still relying on people," she said. "We’re still hitting once again working families. And we’re exempting this large organization that has $1.5 million reserved in their bank."