November 25, 2014

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Medina leaders look at exiting NOACA

Allison Wood
The Medina County Gazette
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 Coordination Agency.
A Medina County commissioner said he plans to meet Thursday with Lorain County commissioners to see what the alternatives to NOACA are.
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 a 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 Medina County’s voting members on NOACA, said he’s afraid Medina County would be next in order to receive funding for future road projects.
“Avon had a gun to its head,” Hambley said during the commissioners meeting 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 member of NOACA.
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 because he knew the resolution would pass even though Cuyahoga County used a weighted vote — meaning some of its members votes were counted more than once, which it can do because it represents the most residents among NOACA’s member counties. Those counties include Cuyahoga, Lorain, Medina, Lake and Geauga counties.
Zienkowski said he is worried about the interchange vote, fearing it will be difficult for any area outside of Cuyahoga County to get any road construction project approved in the future. NOACA distributes government funding for transportation projects in the five-county area.
“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 OK’ing 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 county’s border with Cuyahoga County. That project is scheduled to get under way in 2010.
Hambley told his colleagues — Commissioners Sharon Ray and Patricia Geissman — he isn’t sure what metropolitan planning organization the county could join if it withdraws from NOACA. Some possibilities include joining the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, which includes Summit and Portage counties, or creating a new joint district with Lorain County.
Hambley plans to meet Thursday with Lorain County commissioners — who also have talked about withdrawing from NOACA — to discuss it, he said.
Ray and Geissman supported Hambley’s recommendation to pursue alternatives to NOACA.
“This is a dead end to regionalism,” Ray said Monday.
Geissman questioned whether eliminating the weighted vote, which gives Cuyahoga County the most power among the member counties, would solve the problem. But Hambley said Cuyahoga County officials would have to agree to give up that power.
“Is it the beginning of the end of NOACA?” she asked. “We have to take some action now.”
Allison Wood may be reached
at (330) 721-4050 or allisonwood@ohio.net.