June 24, 2016

Mostly sunny

County weighs NOACA pullout

MEDINA — Last week’s controversial decision to approve an interchange at Interstate 90 off Nagel Road in Avon — and what Avon officials had to give up to get it approved — prompted Medina County commissioners to talk about withdrawing from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency on Monday.

The uproar arose after officials from Cuyahoga County refused to sign off on the interchange unless Avon agreed to a revenue-sharing deal, saying they feared the interchange in the fast-growing community would hasten urban sprawl.

The deal requires Avon to send half of the income tax money collected from any business with an annual payroll of $750,000 or more that relocates to the area around the interchange back to the community the business moved from for five years. Those terms will remain in effect for 30 years after the interchange’s construction.

Medina County Commissioner Stephen D. Hambley, who is one of the county’s voting members on NOACA, said he is afraid the county may be forced to do something similar in order to receive any funding for road construction projects.

“Avon had a gun to its head,” he said Monday. “We don’t want to be in that boat.”

Hambley, along with Brunswick City Manager Bob Zienkowski, another NOACA member, abstained from voting on the resolution, which Hambley said he never saw until a NOACA meeting Friday morning. Lafayette Township Trustee Lynda Bowers is Medina County’s third NOACA member.

Bowers said she reluctantly voted in favor of the resolution because she knew Avon needed the interchange.

“I can’t feel good about the decision,” she said, because Lorain County officials were “held hostage.”

Hambley said he abstained from the vote because he thinks the Avon interchange needs to be built and knew the resolution would pass regardless of how he voted.

NOACA is a five-county metropolitan planning organization that approves transportation projects and distributes government funding. Besides Medina, the counties NOACA covers are Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lake and Geauga.

Because Cuyahoga County has the largest population, it also has the most votes on NOACA. Cuyahoga members also have the option of using a “weighted vote,” which gives their voting block 63 percent of the body’s votes, Hambley said.

“They are using it as a club,” he said. “There is a lack of trust between the outlying counties and Cuyahoga County.”

Cuyahoga County officials delayed the approval of the interchange out of concern businesses would relocate to Avon in Lorain County, but a study by a private consultant said the interchange’s construction would have no net loss for the county, Hambley said.

“They ignored the findings of the study because they didn’t like the result,” he said.

Zienkowski said he is worried about this vote because it will be difficult for any area outside of Cuyahoga County to get any road construction project approved.

“This is the best example of why regionalism will never work here,” he said. “It’s a prelude of what’s coming.”

For example, he said the intersection of Interstate 71 and state Route 303 in Brunswick may soon need widening if sporting-goods superstore Cabela’s decides to locate there. Zienkowski said he doesn’t want NOACA to be seeking a share of Brunswick’s tax revenue in exchange for approving the widening.

Medina County Engineer Mike Salay also expressed concern, saying Cuyahoga County officials could demand the county enter a tax-sharing plan in order to approve the widening of Boston Road, which stretches for most of the county’s border with Cuyahoga County. That project is scheduled to get under way in 2010.

It is unclear who would have to approve Medina County’s withdrawal from NOACA and which metropolitan planning organization the county would join instead, Hambley said.

Some possibilities include joining the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, which includes Summit and Portage counties, or creating a joint district with Lorain County.

Hambley said he is meeting with Lorain County commissioners Thursday to discuss the issue. Some Lorain County officials also have suggested withdrawing from NOACA.

There may be one pitfall to pulling out of NOACA. The city of Brunswick and Brunswick Hills Township are considered part of the Cleveland metro area and may not be able to leave the organization, even if the rest of the county does, Hambley said.

At Monday’s commissioners meeting, county commissioners Sharon Ray and Pat Geissman supported Hambley’s recommendation to look into withdrawing from NOACA.

“This is a dead end to regionalism,” Ray said Monday.

At the meeting, Geissman asked Hambley if it was possible for NOACA to eliminate the “weighted vote,” but he said Cuyahoga County officials would have to first agree to give up that power.

“Is it the beginning of the end of NOACA?” she asked. “We have to take some action now.”