The Prosecutor's opinion and associated documents attached below discuss the limited legal authority townships have for off roadway drainage improvements. Townships, as well as the County, are not permitted to spend road and bridge funding on drainage that is not located within the road right-of-way.
State law does not allow road and bridge money to be spent outside the road right-of-way, so any ditches located elsewhere cannot be maintained by the County Engineer's office Motor Vehicle and Gas Tax fund. Many of these ditches were often constructed under the Public Works Administration of the 1930s, and they were handed over to the individual property owners for ongoing maintenance. Similarly, prior to August 23, 1957, after a ditch was constructed through the County Petition process, the completed project was turned over to the property owners for maintenance and upkeep. The County owns an easement over the County Ditch but otherwise the County’s role with regard to the ditch was complete. In 1957 the state legislature passed a law whereby all County Petitioned Ditches constructed after August 23, 1957 are put under permanent maintenance. As such, a special assessment is placed on the property tax bill of all benefited property owners and repairs and maintenance to that particular ditch are paid for out of that special fund. Ditches without a permanent maintenance fund cannot be improved with MVGT dollars.
Ohio Revised Code Section 6131 allows propery owners and townships to petition the County for drainage improvements, so one option for addressing off-roadway drainage needs is to file a ditch petition with the County. The Engineer's office can aid residents or townships on how to navigate the complex ditch petition process. Approved ditch petitions allow the County to assess all the benefitting property owners for the ditch improvement, as well as assess an ongoing maintenance fee. With the established funding source, the County may construct and maintain the improvement. The ditch petition process works best in conjunction with the Surface Water Management District because there will be a funding source available to pay any upfront and design costs for the ditch petition. Ditch petitions filed with the County were stalling for lack of funding for the initial design phase of the improvement process. General fund dollars would have to be spent to do preliminary engineering and design for a drainage improvement with no guarantee of the ditch petition being approved by County Council.
Surface Water Management District
Another option is for townships to join the Summit County Surface Water Management District. The Summit County Surface Water Management District (SWMD) is an opt-in stormwater improvement program that functions as a utility. The program is available to any community in Summit County. The SWMD was created in 2017 in order to aid local communities in their efforts to address stormwater problems. Bath Township joined the district in 2018. The Surface Water Management District can fund those designs and, depending on the wishes of the community, can even fund the construction and maintenance of the ditch improvement. Communities that join the SWMD have a good deal of input in the administrative decisions of the SWMD. Any money collected in a community is guaranteed by ordinance to only be spent in a way that benefits that community. In addition, we appoint a Surface Water Advisory Committee made up of township officials and residents to decide on expenses and priority projects.
Township residents living within assessed subdivisions may have additional options for addressing surface water issues. Subdivision lots built in the 1980s and after are required to pay a Drainage Maintenance Assessment for the long term maintenance of the subdivision's stormwater facilities. The County collects that money in a special account set aside for assessed subidivsion stormwater needs. Water problems arising from any of assessed stormwater facilities can be addressed using those funds.