UPDATE: CREIGHTON VIDEO REPAIRED
The Stark County commissioners have - of late - been lamenting the poor turnout at their series of 22 community meetings designed to: (1) explain the particulars of the county's financial/fiscal crisis and, (2) to build up support for a sales tax increase of 0.5% they plan to place on the November ballot.
After Wednesday night's Perry Township meeting, they may be rethinking their dismay at poor turnouts.
About 30 Perry residents showed up at Perry Township Hall and for about 1-1/2 hours vented on the commissioners. Nearly all the venting had to do with flooding/sewer backups that many Perry residents have been experiencing over the past ten years or so. 2011 has been a particularly rough year on Perryites.
So what is to vent on the commissioners about?
How about a near total breakdown in the county ditching system in and about Perry Township resulting in flooding and sewer backups in many Perry homes.
According to Stark County Engineering Department Hydraulics Engineer Gary Conner (who has been working on this problem for nearly 40 years), the ditches have not been maintained in a proper manner since the late 1970s. He says that beginning in the 1980s Stark County commissioners have failed to make the needed investment in storm ditch drainage and that the inattention is a huge factor in why residents are experiencing flooding and sewer backups as never before.
Conner said that it would take $7 million to $10 million a year over ten years to solve Stark County's (which, obviously, includes more than the Perry Township ditching) to repair Stark's decrepit storm draining ditches.
Currently, Stark County is spending $100,000 annually on Stark's ditching problem which, of course, is not a maintenance program. Rather, it is an "emergency" fund. On Wednesday, Commissioner Creighton acknowledge that Stark County is in now way, shape or form prepared - financially - for a Katrina like catastrophe.
When the now deceased Mike Rehfus was county engineer (probably about the year 2007), he teamed up with then Stark County Commissioner Todd Bosley to implement Bosley's dream of spending $1 million a year on trying to catch up on Stark's deficit ditch cleaning and repair program. According to Conner, the program last about a year and one-half until county financial pressure caused commissioners to strip about half of the money from ditching repair. In implementing the program, the county engineer bought a couple pieces of equipment needed for the project and assigned two men to work on nothing put ditch projects.
Fast forward to June 15, 2011 at Perry Township Hall and you have "the perfect storm" of citizen complaints that, at times, seemed overwhelming to Commissioners Bernabei, Creighton and Ferguson.
The SCPR has prepared a kaleidoscope video of various attendees at the Wednesday night meeting to give readers of The Report a thorough sampling of the outrage visited on the commissioners.
The commissioners were not exactly shrinking violets.
In order: first, Creighton, then Bernabei and lastly Ferguson here of videos of the commissioners' responses.
Particularly telling was an exchange between Commission Tom Bernabei and a resident in which the resident asked whether or not a voter passage of a 0.5% sales tax increase would provide enough money to fix the drain ditch problem?
Answer? In a terse one word response, Bernabei said an emphatic NO!
So what is a realistic answer?
A Storm Water Utility!
A Storm Water Utility!!
A Storm Water Utility!!!
As the Perry Township community meeting concluded, the Stark commissioners promised the assembled Perry citizens that they would investigate establishing a storm water utility for Stark County. Moreover, they committed to working towards finding a solution to the flooding and sanitary sewer backup problems that residents are experiencing.
The question is this: will the commissioners keep their promises?
They talk about re-establishing trust of the citizenry with county government.
It is on matters like these "is where the rubber hits road."
If they deliver, the beginnings of building trust will be at hand.
If they don't, more alienation will build in.
And future boards of county commissioners will experience even greater problems than the 2011-2012 Stark County Board of County Commissioners.