June 26, 2016

Partly sunny

County gains NOACA vote

Medina County gained a vote on the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency board after members abolished the weighted voting system that gave Cuyahoga County officials 63 percent of votes for the five-county region.

Under the new system, which the board unanimously approved Friday and is set to start next year, Medina County Highway Engineer Mike Salay will have a vote and Cuyahoga County commissioners, who currently have four votes each, will have one each.

The replacement system must be ratified by each board of county commissioners in the five NOACA counties in the next 90 days. NOACA handles transportation and environmental planning for Medina, Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain and Geauga.

Medina County Commissioner Steve Hambley said the new system will end “Cuyahoga County’s ability to basically just bully everybody.”

Cuyahoga officials will have 24 votes out of a total of 44, where they currently have 35 out of 56. In addition, Cuyahoga’s votes will be spread out over more people, as representatives of the suburbs of Parma, Lakewood, Euclid and Cleveland Heights and the Cleveland Cuyahoga County Port Authority will have votes.

The weighted voting system was set in place in the early 1990s to give more voice to the more populous counties, NOACA Director Howard Maier said Monday. But it has long been criticized for giving Cuyahoga County officials too much say.

Hambley said Cuyahoga County in 1997 threatened to use its weighted vote against approving the widening of Interstate 71 in Medina County.

“That was the hammer they could use to de-fund counties. It was indeed a supermajority,” Hambley said.

He said Cuyahoga County officials then were afraid the widening would cause urban sprawl, but they eventually voted to approve the project.

Cuyahoga’s majority was almost used in 2007 when Avon sought an interchange at Interstate 90 and Nagel Road in Lorain County. The city had to agree to a revenue-sharing deal to receive voting support from Cuyahoga.

Medina and Lorain County commissioners at the time considered creating their own metropolitan planning organization to avoid Cuyahoga’s supermajority. But Hambley noted that if they had done that, the counties would have access to fewer dollars for projects.

Hambley said he is happy with the deal struck between the varying NOACA members.

“To me, it’s wondrous to see this compromise,” he said.

Medina County was the only one to gain a voting member. Now that Salay has a vote, Geauga County is the only county without a vote for its engineer.

“Most of this is highway funding that’s coming through (to NOACA), so it makes sense to have the highway engineer involved in the decision process,” Hambley said.

Contact Maria Kacik at (330) 721-4049 or mkacik@ohio.net.