Berkshire Heights Property Assessments to Move Forward
May 18, 2022 by Valerie S. Clause

Residents of the Berkshire Heights subdivision in Chardon Township found little relief in a recent offer from Geauga County Commissioners to assist in reducing homeowner costs related to construction of a new sanitary sewage plant.

Residents of the Berkshire Heights subdivision in Chardon Township found little relief in a recent offer from Geauga County Commissioners to assist in reducing homeowner costs related to construction of a new sanitary sewage plant.

“First of all, we’re adjusting the interest rate down to 1.33 percent from 1.85,” said county Administrator and sanitary Engineer Gerry Morgan on May 9 — referring to the interest rate that will be applied to a $28,000 assessment per household to cover the costs of building the sewage plant. “We will be eliminating the $300 permit application and inspection fees for each of the properties. And we will be providing some reimbursement grants for service connection costs – up to $8,000 per lot.”

Berkshire Heights property owners had hoped for more during last week’s meeting, held in County Building 8 at 470 Center Street. Commissioner Jim Dvorak and Geauga County Water Department Director Steve Oluic were also in attendance.

The property owners were awaiting a formal response from Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz, who had been asked to determine whether American Relief Plan Act funds could be used to cover the homeowner contribution of over $3.1 million toward the project — a cost being divided among the 113 homeowners in the subdivision.

If permitted, this would have eliminated the $28,000 assessment per household that is set to be pro-rated onto their property taxes with the 1.33 percent interest rate over the course of 30 years.

“We did get an opinion from the prosecutor’s office and we cannot use ARPA funds for the assessments,” Morgan said, adding the reason is the project was started prior to March 3, 2021.

One resident continued to question the inability to use ARPA funds, saying she had presented information to commissioners indicating the county could give money directly to residents who had economic deficiencies.

Furthermore, part of the opinion from the prosecutor’s office indicated that $10 million allocated as revenue loss eligible use funds have more flexibility under ARPA regulations. Those funds could have potentially allowed monies to be shuffled around, ultimately creating funding for the project, but those funds were no longer available.

There were some outcries from the audience when Morgan read from the prosecutor’s letter, stating, “The revenue loss eligible funds are already committed and that commitment is tied to an agreed judgement entry.”

“When you read that opinion, you said the excluded amount could have been used if it wasn’t accounted for already,” said one resident, questioning how those funds are going to be used.
“It has been accounted for upgrades to the courthouse that are part of an agreement from a lawsuit,” Morgan said, adding the decision was made the funding would go toward the courthouse.

“So, you’re not using funding because of your lawsuit?” the resident asked.
“The decision was made that this funding would go towards the courthouse,” Morgan replied. “Let me be clear, the courthouse benefits the entire county. It does not benefit 113 properties. One of the things I think needs to be made clear is you’re asking for a sixth of the money we’re getting from ARPA funds, for not even a 10th of the population.”

Members of the audience pushed back, saying they were voters, too.

“It’s not about voters, it’s about making sure that the money we spend — it benefits all of the residents, or a majority of the residents,” Morgan said.

Another resident countered his statements.

“You mention that it’s not fair for the (113) residents … to recoup monies from the county,” she said. “What about the people that pay for the school systems that don’t have children? I mean, there’s some disconnect here. It doesn’t matter. What about the playgrounds? Some people don’t have children, but they’re paying for a playground. You can’t use that argument.”

Morgan explained items like spending for schools, parks and roads are put in by voters.

The Berkshire Heights wastewater treatment plant was required by the Environmental Protection Agency due to failing septic systems that were determined to be polluting water resources.

“Out of those 113 lots, you’re talking about 75 of them still have original septic systems from the 50s and 60s,” Morgan said. “That is the reason why we are here today. We are here today because of the failing septic systems in the subdivision.”

Other issues discussed during the nearly two-hour meeting included resident concerns that the treatment plant was built over the needed capacity; that two homes considered to be part of the Berkshire Heights subdivision were not required to tie-in and, therefore, share costs; and that there were cost-cutting measures that could have been taken with the construction and appearance of the plant; as well as questions about why Legend Lake Golf Club was excluded from sharing in the costs of building the plant, even though they will be using it; and about potential future development at the golf course that could impact capacity and costs.

Berkshire Heights property owners had until May 10 to let the county water department know if they were paying the $28,000 assessment up front. Property owners could also begin the tie-in process, with the first step being to get two quotes for the work. The county would then review the quotes and agree to fund the lesser of the two, up to the $8,000 limit.

If an individual decides to do the tie-in work as their own contractor, they may submit costs for any equipment and materials related to the job, but labor costs would not be eligible for reimbursement.

The full May 9 meeting can be viewed on the county’s ADP YouTube channel. The prosecutor’s opinion has been posted on the water department’s website.