Regional approach wanted for storm water district

ERIE COUNTY If obtaining water is a regional effort in Erie County, maybe getting rid of it should b
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

ERIE COUNTY

If obtaining water is a regional effort in Erie County, maybe getting rid of it should be a regional project, too.

Erie County officials have set up a meeting next month with officials from Sandusky, Huron and Vermilion to discuss whether those cities want to join the county in setting up a storm water drainage district.

A regional group to improve drainage in the county would be similar to the new regional water agreement set up by Erie County, Sandusky and Huron to produce drinking water for the county's residents.

County officials have been discussing a storm drainage utility district ever since floods in 2006 affected several regions of Erie County. Commissioners recently decided to try to set up the drainage district, and County Engineer Jack Farschman has agreed to tackle the job of running it.

While the county has a patchwork of local drainage ditches, supported by tax levies on nearby property owners, a storm water drainage district would be the first systematic attack on Erie County's flooding problems.

County Administrator Mike Bixler met Wednesday with Farschman and other county officials and said the meeting has resulted in preliminary budget numbers.

Setting up the storm water district could cost $250,000 to $300,000 with an annual budget of $2 million to $2.5 million to carry out drainage projects, Bixler said.

Where the revenues for the drainage district would come from remains an unanswered question. Similar drainage districts in other Ohio counties have been funded by levying fees on all county property owners, but that's only one of the possible approaches, said Tom Ferrell, chairman of the Erie County Commissioners.

Other possible ideas include using property taxes, a charge on water bills or sales taxes, Ferrell said.

A levy on property owners would need to take into account that some land uses produce more floodwater than others. A parking lot, for example, produces more rainwater runoff than a farm field.

"That's one of the issues we need to resolve," Ferrell said.

On Monday, Bixler expects to ask commissioners to sign a letter to be sent out to all Erie County cities, villages and townships.

The letter would ask each local government to suggest three or four flooding or drainage projects that it would consider a priority.

Farschman's office and Erie Soil and Water Conservation District will then prepare cost estimates for the projects, allowing a more accurate budget proposal to be put together. The goal would be to try to get a small or medium-sized project carried out soon in each community, a draft of the letter says.

The meeting with county and city officials has been scheduled for Dec. 19.

Getting the cities involved is important, Ferrell said.

"The county doesn't have authority within the municipalities," he said.

A public meeting to give details on the proposed new drainage district will likely take place in early 2008, Ferrell said.

Ferrell said he will travel to St. Louis, Mo., later this month for a meeting to learn more about setting up drainage districts.