Court nixes MVSD $5 million rebate plan
By Jordan Cohen
A plan by the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District to distribute $5 million in rebates to Youngstown, Niles and McDonald has been emphatically rejected by the district’s court of jurisdiction, which called the proposal “ill-advised.”
The court, consisting of Judges Lou D’Apolito of Mahoning County and Ronald Rice of Trumbull County, reviews rate proposals and other matters by the MVSD. Youngstown, Niles and McDonald are its member communities.
The proposal, brought before the court more than seven months ago, asked for approval of $3.7 million in rebates to Youngstown, $1.2 million to Niles and $100,000 to McDonald. MVSD directors said the district had enough funds on hand to cover repairs to the Meander Dam and other necessities.
The dam repair project is expected to cost $28 million and take years to complete.
In their judgment entry released Friday, however, the two jurists said the rebate motion remained “dormant” for so long because “it became abundantly clear that this Court was not willing to simply provide a rubber stamp to this solicitation.” One reason it cited was a lack of support from the state auditor.
Ohio Chief Deputy Auditor Robert Hinkle had written to the court expressing concern for the district’s “fiscal integrity,” noting the MVSD’s existing debts include $38.7 million in loans from the Ohio Water Development Authority and payments on $9 million in bonds.
His points clearly resonated with the judges who criticized the district for keeping the issue alive for so long “to the detriment of any municipality presuming these funds should be included in their budgets.”
That is especially the case with Niles in state-declared fiscal emergency since October 2014. Mayor Thomas Scarnecchia included the $1.2 million rebate in its most recent financial recovery plan and must now find a way to cover the loss of funds he expected his city to receive.
“I’m disappointed,” said Scarnecchia, who has to submit a revised plan to the fiscal commission overseeing city spending by its next meeting in July. “I’m not certain how to make up the $1.2 million and I’m just searching for ideas.”
Messages seeking comment from Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and Finance Director Kyle Miasek were not returned.
Attorney Matthew Blair of Niles, who served as a board director until his term expired last week, said he was not surprised by the ruling. He said the board was well aware of the judges’ opposition to the rebates and for that reason took no further action to push the plan.
An attempt to reach another board member, Vernard Richburg of Youngstown, was unsuccessful.