A county map shows the streets getting new sewer lines and the assessment district for the improvements. Image via the Portage County Water Resources Department

New sewer system in Ravenna Township will carry high costs for residents

Raw sewage in yards, culverts and open ditches. Nonexistent and failed septic systems. That’s been life in Ravenna Township’s Chinn Allotment, but the state EPA says those days are soon over: It’s time for a sanitary sewer system.

With no choice but to comply with the Ohio EPA’s orders, county officials turned to CT Consultants, which offers engineering, architecture, planning and construction services. CT’s solution was estimated at $11,050,000.

Almost $7 million in federal, state and local grants and subsidies reduced the price a bit, but some 250 property owners will be required to shoulder the remaining $4,193,750 project cost.

The new sewer system is planned for part of Red Brush Road/Brady Lake Road, Genevieve Road, Plainview Road, Lois Road, Marchinn Road, Woodlawn Avenue, Roselawn Avenue, Rose Street, Wall Street, Mabel Avenue and San Mar Street.

A new pump station will be built on Brady Lake Road to collect and transfer sewage to the Short Street station, which will be upgraded to handle the increased flow. From there, the sewage will be transferred to an existing wastewater treatment facility.

Cost estimate breakdown

Speaking to a crowd of concerned property owners at an April 30 meeting at Ravenna High School, CT Consultants Vice President Rich Iafelice outlined estimated costs at $28,857 to $32,857 for about 255 parcel owners:

  • An estimated $16,450 property tax assessment, payable over 20-years to the county via property taxes
  • A $5,580 tap-in fee payable to the county water resources department, which will provide 10-year, low-interest loans to each resident
  • $185 for permit and inspection fees payable to the county
  • $6,000-$10,000 for a pipe from the home to the sewer line and costs for a private pump station if the homes are lower than the sewer line, payable to the contractor each resident chooses to do the work
  • $641.96 annually in sewer bills, payable to the county at $160.49 per quarter.

The bills will be higher for all homeowners on San Mar Street and Mabel Avenue and for some parcels on Wall Street and Roselawn Avenue: Their homes are lower than the sewer line, so all of them will need private pump stations, Iafelice said. Homeowners on other streets may need them as well; that will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

And, because some residents own more than one lot, those owners’ actual costs will be higher. The costs are figured on a per-parcel basis, not per property owner. Some property owners aren’t happy and have banded together to hire an attorney who will look into alternatives.

One option is for people who own adjoining parcels to combine them into a single parcel. That, though, just makes it worse for everyone else, county water resources Director Dan Blakely said. Person A would only have to pay the single assessment fee, but the $4 million bill is still there and would have to be divvied up among fewer remaining residents.

“The more people that don’t pay into the assessment fee, the more it drives up costs for the people who do. It’s a careful balance,” he said.

Since so many of the residents own multiple parcels, nobody really knows the total, said Woodlawn Avenue resident Kelly Braybon. Even at the expense of their neighbors’ wallets, they’ve found a way to reduce their tax burden.

“Right now everyone in this neighborhood is scurrying to combine all their lots, which is going to totally throw all the numbers,” Braybon said. “There’s one woman who has five lots, and that’s her intention, and the vast majority have at least two parcels.”

Sewer work is non-negotiable

Braybon said the neighborhood needs the sewer, but the residents object to the costs.

Blakely noted that residents have known the sewer line was coming since July 2018, when the county water resources department held a public hearing at Ravenna High School to introduce the project and review requirements and expectations. He’s noted their concerns, but says the county has no choice.

The May 2019 Ohio EPA order is clear: The county must install a sewer system. Though the pandemic, skyrocketing project costs, exploration of grant options and design challenges slowed the project down, the time has come, said county Sanitary Engineer John Vence.

Property owners aren’t exempt even if their septic systems are in perfect working order. Though some property owners with unbuildable lots may be exempted, Blakely said most septic systems must be disconnected. Two homes that are farther than 200 feet from the sewer line will be assessed, but will not have to tie into it, Vence said.

Vence said work is likely to start in January 2025 and end in January 2027. The county health department has ordered that all users must tie into the sewer lines by January 2028. That means hiring a private contractor, arranging for county inspections and pulling and paying permit fees.

The county will provide residents with a list of willing, capable contractors, and Blakely said he hopes if a single contractor gets enough work in one area, the cost per resident will be reduced. Though property owners are responsible for seeing that all the permits and other fees are paid, the county has an on-staff permit coordinator to ensure all paperwork is in order, he said.

Residents who qualify for homestead tax exemptions through the county auditor’s office will receive a 10% discount on their quarterly sewage rates. Beyond that, David Shea, executive director of the Community Action Council of Portage County, said he does not know of any programs to financially help the homeowners.

Portage County Treasurer John Kennedy said his office can provide low interest (1%-3%) loans of up to $25,000 to applicants who qualify, but he understands that elderly residents may not want to take out any kind of loan.

Kennedy said he’s reached out to the offices of Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, U.S. Rep. David Joyce, state Senator Vernon Sykes and state Rep. Gail Pavliga to find out if additional state or federal dollars might be found to help the property owners.

“Now’s the time for the powers that be,” Kennedy said. “This is what you get elected to public service to work on. This is the meat and potatoes of public service. We have got to address these problems and to let the residents know we are.”

Offering low-cost loans to property owners, many of whom are senior citizens, is “a stop-gap that puts a little tiny Band-Aid on a big, big wound,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said he had heard about smaller sewer projects where homeowners were not required to pay tie-in costs, but Vence said he knew of none in the 17 years he’s been with the water resources department.

Several years ago, about 57 lots on Brimfield’s east side were required to tie into a nearby sewer, and each homeowner was assessed about $13,000 plus interest, Vence said. The payback was added to their sewer bills instead of their property taxes, but the essence was the same: Like the Chinn Allotment residents, they’re expected to pay for two decades and to pay the other associated costs themselves.

After the Chinn Allotment sewers are completed, residents will be able to apply for income-based grants from any number of agencies to finance the pipes from their homes to the sewer line, Vence said. Initial calls might be made to the state EPA and the county health department, but the time to call is after the sewer line is completed, not before, he advised.

Turns out the parameters for grants constantly change, including income qualifications and potential awards. But Vence said grant applications are usually processed within a month or so, leaving property owners time enough to meet the one-year deadline.

‘They are punishing the entire neighborhood’

Bob Mathis bought his home on Genevieve Road four years ago. The previous owner cleaned out the septic system before the sale closed, Mathis has had it cleaned out twice since then, and it works perfectly, he said.

Now he said he’s looking at a $50,000 bill, including some $20,000 for a grinder pump, and more for a generator to service the pump if his electricity fails. (Vence disagrees. “I’ve never heard of having anyone have sewage backup because the electricity is off,” he said.)

Mathis said he’s looking at an annual $1,000 tax hit for his lot alone. Add on the quarterly sewage fees, and the figure climbs to more than $1,500 a year, he said.

“The whole problem with this is the county has known for over 40 years that there was a problem with the septic systems in some of the houses. For 40 years they sat with their head in the sand. Now instead of requiring property owners who have faulty systems to improve their systems, they are punishing the entire neighborhood,” he said.

Kennedy said he agrees that county officials have, as he said, “kicked the can down the road,” but what is done is done. The EPA has spoken, the county has no choice but to comply, and the sewer system is inevitable. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that homes hooked into sanitary sewer systems have higher value than do homes with septic systems, he said.

Mathis’s neighbor Gary Hogan, owner of three lots on Genevieve Road, said his sewer assessment alone will cost almost $50,000. Add the costs of disconnecting his septic system, thousands of dollars to run a pipe from his home to the county sewer line, thousands more for tie-in fees and the bills quickly add up, he said.

Hogan said he has been complaining to the county and to Ravenna trustees and to the county health department since 1985 about failing ceramic drain tiles carrying raw sewage from neighboring properties through his land.

He’s not the only one. Blakely, Vence and county Commissioner Sabrina Christian-Bennett said many residents complained and Vence added that, after the April 30 community meeting, several attendees took time to personally thank him for finally getting something done.

Some residents said the sewage smell is so bad in the neighborhood that they couldn’t bear to take walks.

Hogan said that in heavy rains his land floods and raw sewage flows to the surface.

“All I wanted was the raw sewage to stop going through my yard. That was all I expected. I didn’t know how it was going to happen and how it was going to impact my neighbors,” he said.

Now, Hogan says his total anticipated tax hit is “unacceptable.”

Christian-Bennett agrees the homeowners’ costs are astronomical, but said the county’s hands are tied.

“I feel for these people. I sympathize with them,” she said. “There’s never a good time to have a bill like this, and with inflation so high and taxes getting assessed this year, it’s even more detrimental to a household budget.”

+ posts

Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.