The Water & Sewer Infrastructure Crisis and Potential Paths Forward

March 3rd, 2015

By Samantha Dawson, GOPC Intern, and Marianne Eppig, Manager of Research & Communications

Our nation and its legacy cities are facing an impending infrastructure crisis: water and sewer systems are failing and require modernization as soon as possible. Most of these water and sewer systems were built following WWII, meaning that they are approaching the end of their useful life. In some places, the infrastructure is already beginning to fail, leading to water main breaks, housing floods, sewage overflows into the environment, and public health crises.

While the national bill to upgrade this infrastructure has been estimated at around $1 trillion, costs for addressing Ohio’s existing water and sewer system deficiencies are estimated to be around $20.84 billion, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

To meet federal clean water mandates, cities must find ways to finance these needed infrastructure overhauls in short order. So far, many cities around Ohio have been ratcheting up water and sewer rates. The city of Akron, for example, has increased rates by 71% in one year. Other cities around Ohio have raised rates between 30% to 50% or more within the last two years.

Graph-WaterRates-OEPA    Graph-SewerRates-OEPA

GOPC is currently looking into other financial tools that can be used to restore Ohio’s water and sewer infrastructure systems. We will be discussing these tools with a panel of experts at our upcoming 2015 Summit on June 9th during the following session:

Finding Solutions to Ohio’s Water Infrastructure Challenges 

Ohio cities, large and small, must address the critical behind-the-scenes challenge of modernizing their water and sewer infrastructure to avoid potential serious public health crises and environmental degradation, and to create capacity to attract and support businesses and residents.  However, Ohio’s cities are struggling to find ways to finance the complicated infrastructure overhauls needed to address these challenges, comply with federal mandates, and even support on-going maintenance. On this panel, experts will discuss the scope of these infrastructure challenges along with innovative financing approaches and sustainable solutions necessary for Ohio’s cities to function smoothly and accommodate regrowth.

We hope you will join us at the 2015 Summit! For more information about the Summit agenda and to register, click here.

Two GOPC Policy Recommendations Incorporated in Statewide Transportation Budget Bill

February 27th, 2015
The Ohio Statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse

Throughout February, Greater Ohio Policy Center has been testifying to the Ohio House of Representatives on the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) biennium budget, calling for policies that would lead to a modern and diverse transportation system in Ohio.

The Ohio House Finance Committee has incorporated two of GOPC’s policy recommendations into the transportation budget bill that passed out of the House Finance committee in late February. As a direct result of GOPC’s testimony and educational efforts, the bill now includes:

Sec. 5501.08. The department of transportation, in order to assist in statewide strategic transportation planning, shall develop metrics that allow the comparison of data across transportation modes and that also incorporate the full spectrum of state strategic transportation goals, including all of the following:

(A)   Anticipated future costs of maintaining infrastructure in acceptable condition, both short-term and long-term;

(B)   Short-term economic impact, one to five years, and long-term economic impact, thirty years and longer;

(C)   Economic impact on a region’s future rate of job growth and job retention;

(D)   Motorist, bicyclist, and pedestrian counts, and number of accidents by mode.

Section 755.40. There is hereby created the Joint Legislative Task Force on Department of Transportation Funding. […] The Task Force shall examine the funding needs of the Ohio Department of Transportation. The Task Force also shall study specifically the issue of the effectiveness of the Ohio motor fuel tax in meeting those funding needs. Not later than December 15, 2016, the Task Force shall issue a report containing its findings and recommendations to the President of the Senate, the Minority Leader of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives. At that time, the Task Force shall cease to exist.

These provisions will help the state maximize resources and fully leverage the potential of Ohio’s multi-modal transportation system, which is essential to enhancing Ohio’s draw as a place where businesses can thrive and where people want to live.

The bill, Amended Substitute House Bill 53, will be voted on by the House of Representatives in early March. The Ohio Senate will begin hearings in early March and GOPC will be testifying in support of these two provisions, as well as other policy recommendations that could lead to a modern and diverse transportation system in Ohio.

GOPC applauds the House Finance Committee for its contributions to this proposed legislation.

 

GOPC Testifies on ODOT Budget

February 16th, 2015

GOPC calls for policies that would lead to a modern and diverse transportation system in Ohio

By Alison Goebel, Associate Director

Every two years, Ohio’s Governor submits a proposed Operating Budget to the General Assembly. This biennium budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 is proposed at $72.3 billion. Of that overall budget, $5.9 billion have been allocated to the Ohio Department of Transportation to support its capital projects and operations.

The Ohio Department of Transportation oversees and funds all modes of transportation in Ohio, including railroads, maritime ports, airports, state routes and highways, and public transportation.

Approximately 92% of ODOT’s biennium budget is to be used for the maintenance and construction of highways and bridges, which mostly translates into capital dollars for highway repair and expansion. Undoubtedly, Ohio’s highways are a critical asset to the state; with key national highways running through Ohio, the state must maintain the highways in good repair.

However, other modes are critical to the long-term economic health of the state, as well. In particular, public transit has always played, and will increasingly play, an essential role in job growth in the state. Public transit connects workers to jobs—low wage workers utilize public transit, as do “choice riders” who prefer the convenience of public transit to driving. National studies have confirmed again and again that young professionals are showing a strong preference for a range of transportation options.

To attract and retain young professionals in Ohio—the next generation of economic generators—the state of Ohio must assist local transit agencies in meeting the demands of this workforce.  Currently 2% of the ODOT budget goes to supporting Ohio’s 61 public transit agencies.

This past week, GOPC provided testimony to the House Finance Subcommittee on Transportation urging the Legislature to increase funding for public transit and to put into place policies that would help “level the playing field” for transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and other options that would modernize the state’s transportation system and help prepare the state to attract and retain residents who expect a range of transportation choices.

GOPC will be providing similar testimony to the full House Finance Committee and the Senate Finance Committee in the coming weeks as the Legislature works to finalize the ODOT budget.

Let’s Talk Transit

October 20th, 2014

Health Line in Cleveland

ODOT Hosts Five Regional Stakeholder Meetings on the Future of Transit in Ohio

Join the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) at one of five regional stakeholder meetings to help shape a long-term strategy for meeting the needs of Ohio’s transit riders today and in the future.

Trends show there is a definite rise in the need for convenient, affordable public transportation to jobs, medical appointments, shopping and recreational activities. Ohio’s transit agencies are struggling to fund existing service, let alone meet increasing demand. From light rail and bus service in large cities to rural van services, the Ohio Statewide Transit Needs Study is examining existing transit needs and drafting recommendations for better addressing them. ODOT needs your input, comments and ideas!

Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2-4 PM
Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority
Board Room
1240 West 6th Street
Cleveland, OH 44113

Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2-4 PM
Hancock Family Center
1800 North Blanchard Street
Findlay, OH 45840

Thursday, Oct. 23, 2-4 PM
Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission
Scioto Room
111 Liberty Street
Columbus, OH 43215

Thursday, Oct. 30, 2-4 PM
Athens Community Center
701 East State Street
Athens, OH 45701

Friday, Oct. 31, 10 AM-12 PM
OhioMeansJobs Building
300 East Silver Street
Lebanon, OH 45036

Unable to attend? All meeting materials will be available online starting Oct. 21 at www.TransitNeedsStudy.ohio.gov. Comments accepted through Nov. 14.

Questions or comments? Email ODOT at Transit.Needs@dot.state.oh.us.

 

Greater Ohio 2012 Accomplishments

January 18th, 2013

We are proud of the accomplishments we have made in 2012. To fill you in on what’s been going on at GOPC’s office and throughout the state in the past year, below is a list of our accomplishments within our three priority policy areas: Urban Core and Neighborhood Redevelopment, Transportation and Sustainable Growth, and Regional Governance Reform. Together, redeveloping our urban centers, expanding our transportation options, and fostering regional cooperation will contribute to smarter, more sustainable growth, improving our quality of life and economic competitiveness in Ohio.

URBAN CORE & NEIGHBORHOOD REDEVELOPMENT

Raising Our Statewide Profile:

  • Ohio Properties Redevelopment Institute. GOPC hosted this innovative two-day forum that promoted solutions to vacant and abandoned properties. Nearly 200 local leaders from municipalities and non-profit community development organizations across the state attended.
  • Moving Ohio Forward Grant Program. The Ohio Attorney General’s office contracted with the GOPC to provide technical assistance to communities for the Moving Ohio Forward Grant Program, which supports Ohio’s communities undertaking activities to demolish abandoned and vacant residential properties.
  • Panels and Keynotes. GOPC presented on urban revitalization issues over 20 times to a variety of audiences including Ohio code enforcement officers, Cincinnati’s Foreclosure Group, Cleveland’s Vacant and Abandoned Property Action Council (VAPAC), and Heritage Ohio workshop attendees.
  • In the Media. In 2012, GOPC was quoted or cited over 50 times in Ohio’s major newspapers and other publications around the country. In one article about vacant properties, The Columbus Dispatch relied heavily on data and graphs produced by GOPC.

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GOPC, “Across the Spectrum” Think Tanks Unite Again

September 13th, 2012

Greater Ohio Policy Center is again collaborating with Center for Community Solutions and the Buckeye Institute, two other think tanks that span the political spectrum, renewing the call to examine the issue of tax expenditures, commonly known as “tax loopholes.”  Last week, the three partners issued a Press Release once again advocating for a Joint House-Senate Tax Expenditure Review Committee to examine and vet tax expenditures and subject these loopholes to “sunset revisions,” which would allow certain tax expenditures to expire after several years unless re-enacted by the General Assembly and approved by the Governor. 
 
“In the absence of guidelines for demonstrating effectiveness, and a schedule for periodic evaluation, these cannot be considered good public policy”, the three groups said in their Press Release.
 
This unique tripartite partnership began during last year’s debate over Ohio’s 2012-2013 budget, when the groups joined together to propose ways that Ohio policymakers could address the issue of tax expenditures.  This partnership attracted extensive state and national attention and spurred the highly successful “Across the Spectrum” conference, raising the level of public discourse by facilitating thoughtful discussions that avoided partisan platitudes and instead explored a range of policy solutions available to the state and nation.
 
GOPC and their partners commend Governor Kasich for his recent comments on the need to examine expenditures and the Ohio House of Representatives for convening a tax review committee last year.  These policymakers have brought back into public view the importance of adopting a comprehensive process for assessing Ohio’s loopholes.
 
Evaluating the costs and benefits of specific expenditures will ensure a transparent and defensible decision-making process.  In improving Ohio’s competitiveness and quality of life, any future expenditures—new or renewed—must have transparent criteria that ranks projects and clearly demonstrates a net benefit to tax payers.
 
“Our organizations often take different positions on how best to raise and allocate public resources, but we share the common goals of eliminating ineffective, counterproductive or outdated tax expenditures, and assuring that those remaining in Ohio tax law receive periodic scrutiny.”

The collaboration between Greater Ohio and their partners have already received attention by Trib Today, Salem News, the Akron Beacon Journal, and been featured on WVIZ NPR.

Kasich Signs Bill with Clean Ohio Funding

June 13th, 2012

On Monday, Governor Kasich signed House Bill 487—also known as the Mid-Biennial Review Bill [MBR]—including a $42 million allocation for the Clean Ohio Fund. Greater Ohio would like to thank the General Assembly and Gov. Kasich for supporting the Clean Ohio Fund, which contributes to the quality of life and economic development of many Ohio communities.

The MBR, subtitled the Management Efficiency Plan (MEP), is a new effort by Gov. Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly to evaluate and refine Ohio’s $55.7 billion budget at the midpoint of the two-year budget cycle, as opposed to solely at its conclusion. The stated purpose of the MEP is to “streamline operations, reduce costs and improve delivery of services for Ohio taxpayers.” The Governor used his line-item veto authority multiple times, but he kept appropriations for Clean Ohio Fund intact.

The Clean Ohio Fund is a state fund authorized by Ohio taxpayers in 2000, and again in 2008, to support brownfield revitalization, farmland preservation, green space conservation, and recreational trails. The allocated $42 million will be shared between Clean Ohio’s Green Space Conservation and Farmland Preservation programs. Communities can apply for the Clean Ohio funding, which requires a private match of 25-50 percent, and then applicants are scored and peer reviewed in a competitive process so that only the most qualified projects are ultimately funded. Private organizations and local communities become the owners of the projects and they are responsible for ongoing maintenance and improvement costs. Since the upfront cost of land is often prohibitive, the Clean Ohio Fund allows communities to protect land that they might not have been able to otherwise.
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Transit in Ohio: A look at ODOT

January 20th, 2012

By Gene Krebs

Greater Ohio Policy Center has been pointing out that Ohio Department of Transportation has a profound budget imbalance since October of 2005, with concern as to how it will impact the ability of Ohio to keep and attract jobs.  We commend Director Wray for his admission that ODOT has a profound funding problem.  Admitting you have a problem is the first step to solving the problem.  The current funding structure is simply not sustainable, and we need to have a discussion about how to move people and goods in the most cost effective and safe manner, and that might not always mean highways, sometimes it might mean transit, multimodal, rail, bike paths or even sidewalks.  Cars and trucks are not always the answer to every transportation question.  There could be lower cost answers in each unique situation.

Greater Ohio suggests that ODOT and the General Assembly form a task force, similar to the one we suggested in the 2011 ODOT budget, to examine the fiscal future of ODOT and all transportation in Ohio, and to make a recommendation by December 1, 2012.  This report, along with the pending performance audit report of ODOT that Greater Ohio proposed, could form the foundation of a new future for transportation in Ohio, and one that could form the basis of job creation and true GDP growth for decades.

 

Greater Ohio, Buckeye Institute, Center for Community Solutions Call for Tax Reform

June 17th, 2011

A recent collaboration between Greater Ohio and two other high-profile research organizations, the Buckeye Institute and Center for Community Solutions, reaffirmed the old adage about “strength in numbers.”

By joining forces to help spread our message about the critical need for tax reform in the state, we attracted the attention of numerous state and national media. They reported on our efforts, which included sending a proposal to and meeting with state administrative and legislative leaders. We called on them to create a bipartisan State and Local Tax Study Commission to analyze the current tax structure and initiate efforts to make much-needed state and local taxation reform in Ohio a reality.

Our group message – and a recommendation of Greater Ohio for some time – is that without change, the prospects for positioning Ohio for regrowth in the future are greatly diminished.

Coverage included articles and editorials in The Columbus Dispatch, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Dayton Daily News, The Akron Beacon Journal, The Toledo Blade, and USA Today.

To read what the press had to say about our recent initiative, click on any of the links below:

USA Today

The Columbus Dispatch – Editorial

The Akron Beacon Journal – Editorial

Dayton Daily News – Editorial

The Columbus Dispatch

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dayton Daily News

Toledo Blade

The Examiner

 

Horse and Buggy Tax Structure Holding Ohio Back

May 24th, 2011

Do you shop where you live?

It turns out that most Ohioans do a fair amount of shopping away from their home county.  A recent study completed by Greater Ohio, shows that 70 percent of counties did not capture the amount of sales tax revenue that that would be expected if the residents of the county did all their shopping in that same county.

Why does this matter?  It demonstrates that shopping patterns are regional, but our county-based sales tax structure is not.  This system rewards a minority of counties while hamstringing the majority, which creates unbalanced service provision and tax rates across the region, contributes to sprawl by incenting the development of new retail centers on greenfields, and priorities individual counties over capitalizing on regional strengths.

Take the Columbus area as an example.  The graph below shows how sales tax revenue capture changed in Franklin and Delaware counties with the introduction of Polaris.

A closer look at the broader region shows that despite the increase in spending in Delaware County between 1992 and 2009, the total change in spending for the region changed only slightly from $129 to $138 per capita, especially relative to increases in household income for the region during that time.

This arrangement creates a situation where counties with big, new malls thrive while most other places struggle.  All the while, however, the amount of retail spending within the broader region itself remains virtually the same.  In other words, this dynamic of shopping destinations moving around the region does not increase the state’s prosperity. Instead it just redistributes spending from one place to another and leaves places without major retail destinations without many options other than to raise taxes or cut services.

To modernize the taxation system to reflect the regional way we live and shop today, Greater Ohio is currently advocating for:

  • Legislation that makes regional revenue pooling permissive
  • Legislation that makes permissive mergers, consolidation, shared services, and alternative governance structures and eliminates legal and constitutional barriers to new structures of government.
  • Creation of a Governance Reform Commission to oversee and provide technical assistance to Ohio’s local governments as they adapt to the 21st century

The complete study can be found here.