Today may mark a watershed moment for regionalism in Northeast Ohio. Not so much for what happened today, but because today’s event may encourage people to change the rules of the game so it never happens again.
This is Cleveland.com’s report on today’s news:
The five-county transportation planning agency NOACA on Friday approved overwhelmingly a new Interstate 90 link in Avon, after 16 communities struck an unprecedented tax-sharing deal.
The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency voted 47.1 to 2.85, with 6 abstentions, for the $20 million project. Cleveland called for a vote weighted by population, resulting in the odd vote totals.
The vote hinged on a 30-year deal between Avon and 15 communities along an I-90 corridor, from Cleveland west into Lorain County.
If a business with a payroll of more than $750,000 moves from one of those cities to a 600-acre zone along Nagel Road, Avon would split the income tax with the losing city for five years.
Avon would also limit its property tax breaks on relocated businesses to 75 percent and 10 years.
I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, but I received an interesting report from someone who did. It follows:
Commissioner Hambley (Medina) said, of the tax sharing agreement, “This is not regionalism — it’s extortion, and it simply creates winners and losers.” He was echoed by Commissioners Blair (Lorain) and Troy (Lake). Clearly Lake, Medina, Lorain and Geauga are very disturbed with that “solution.” As one said, “It sets a precedent; what will happen when our next project comes to the board — more extortion?” But Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones hit the mark. He said “We must have a macro way forward. We can’t just deal with these projects case by case. We need a standard approach, a framework that prevents disputes like this from arising and enables us to work together.”
Several people responding to the news online at Cleveland.com have also called the deal extortion.
I certainly understand the perspective, and that is why Commissioner Jones’ remark is so important.
The Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association is working on a study that hopefully will result in a “macro way forward.” The study is a comprehensive look at the benefits and challenges involved with implementing revenue sharing throughout the 16-county region. This won’t be easy work and it may be months before initial outcomes are available. I credit the region’s political leaders for recognizing the present system isn’t sustainable and hopefully their work will result in a new way.
Regionalism needs to be about sharing — not creating winners and losers. The Avon interchange project may be just what we need to encourage a new approach to physical development in Northeast Ohio.
As today’s vote showed, if we don’t come together to shape a common destiny we run the risk of having others try to dictate our destiny for us.
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