Residents in watershed district oppose tax for flood plan

ASHLAND, Ohio - Less than 16 months ago, rising floodwaters from winter storms forced people in north-central Ohio from their homes.

Now some residents are opposing a plan that officials say would pay to reinforce dams and help alleviate concerns about flooding.

The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District has proposed a $270 million property assessment for residents in the district, which covers about one-fifth of the state.

Residential and agricultural property owners would have to pay $12 a year over the next 20 years. Commercial property owners' assessment would be determined by the amount of runoff from their property.

As the plan moves toward approval this summer, some community members are worried about how the money will be spent.

"They've hinted around at what they would like to see it used for, but there's no accountability," resident Scott Levengood said.

Opponents say the watershed district is a recreational agency that oversees the administration of the district's lakes and campgrounds. Administration of the dams should be left to the Army Corps of Engineers, he said.

Darrin Lautenschleger, a spokesman for the watershed district, said that while the Corps maintains the dams, any plans for improvements and maintenance must have a local sponsor.

Citizens met with watershed district representatives and legislators Tuesday night in Ashland.

Senate President Bill Harris said residents will eventually have to pay the assessment, but the district should address their concerns first.

"There's not a comprehensive budget that shows exactly how this money will be spent," said Harris, a Republican. He thinks the district should delay presenting the plan for approval for a year to clarify their plans.

Assessments for watershed districts must be approved by a court comprised of a judge from each county in the district. The district plans to present the assessment for approval in June or July.

Lautenschleger said the funds are necessary now to maintain a dam and reservoir system that has worked well for more than 70 years.

"It's had a big test and it worked. However, if we fail to do anything to it in the upcoming years, we're going to have problems," Lautenschleger said.

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