What Happened to the “Railroad Money”?

The railroad has been a sore spot for many residents and the subject of multiple lawsuits. These lawsuits eventually produced more than $1.5 million in cash payments for the Maple Heights. What was this money for? What was it spent on? These are all very interesting questions to which we may find surprising answers.

Norfolk Southern Comes to Maple Heights

Maple Heights welcomed Norfolk Southern Railroad’s plan to develop what is now the intermodal yard, by denying their request before the planning commission for “a similar use and preliminary sight plan.” Norfolk Southern didn’t go somewhere else, but instead responded by filing a compliant in federal court (1:00CV1626).

In 2001, there was a settlement between Norfolk Southern Railroad (NS) and the City of Maple Heights. The city received a $100,000 payment each year for the first three years and then ingate fees of $2/truck for the next 10 years commencing in the 4th year.

Railroad Retribution Fund Created

In 2004, Councilman Richard Taylor (District 5) introduced legislation (2004-149) to create a new fund, the “Railroad Retribution Fund” (#299) which was to be funded by

all monies received from Norfolk-Southern in-gate charges… to aid resident whose homes directly abut the Norfolk-Southern Railroad for future remedy.

In 2006 there was another federal lawsuit between NS and Maple Heights (1:06CV02428). According to a Plain Dealer Article,

[t]he city asked a federal judge to halt the railroad yard expansion…

NS answered and filed a counterclaim.  In 2007, NS and Maple Heights agreed that NS would pay the City $70,000 for the city to waive permits and inspection fees, plus a percentage of the project’s cost and actual cost of certain improvements to roadways and utilities.  Following the settlement (2007-59) of the aforementioned lawsuits, Councilman Priebe (District 1) introduced legislation (2007-70) amending 2004-149 to include additional monies received from Norfolk-Southern for permit and inspection fees received from the expansion. The legislation also established a “railroad committee” to find practical and financially responsible solutions to the problems residents adjacent to the intermodal were experiencing. Mayor Ciaravino vetoed this legislation but was unanimously overridden by council. The Sun News reported on the meeting in these January and October articles.

Railroad Committee

Minutes from the Railroad Committee can be found here for 2008 and 2009. In 2009, the committee sought the opinion of the City Engineer, Ed Hren, who happens to be intimately acquainted with noise abatement.  Hren’s insightful opinion addressed possible solutions discussed by the committee including:

  • installation of noise barrier walls: most effective for those nearest the wall and when there are no breaks in the wall,
  • earthen mounds and plantings: not feasible due to the lack of space between the homes and the railroad tracks,
  • and noise insulation on individual dwellings:$8.75 million to do all properties in the identified vicinity- which was larger than those directly abutting the railroad.

In 2009, Councilman Taylor introduced legislation (2009-81) supporting  an insulation program for residents of owner-occupied homes directly abutting the railroad. The legislation called for a “pilot program”. The Garfield-Maple Sun reported the costs of the insulation and other remedies discussed in this article (incomplete). Note to the reader:  2012-40 repealed 2009-81. 

In 2010, Councilman Anthony Cefaratti (District 3) introduced legislation (2010-27) amending all prior legislation to include homes abutting the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway, a single track which runs just east of the Norfolk Southern intermodal yard.

Councilman Taylor Passes Away

Councilman Taylor was re-elected in 2011, but passed away before his term commenced in 2012, it would have been his third non-consecutive term. City Council accepts applications at the direction of Law Director, John Montello, and swears in Charles Crews as councilman for District 5 less than a month after Taylor’s passing.

Railroad Retribution Fund Terminated: 80-20 Split

At the next meeting, legislation (2012-09) was introduced by Mayor Lansky to take 80% of the money from the railroad fund and transfer it to the general fund:

Whereas,…to allow money from the Railroad Retribution Fund to be used for necessary expenses of the City…

The remaining 20% was reserved for the original purpose of the fund. Council discussed 2012-09 at their February 1, February, and March 7, 2012 meetings. Note to the reader: please see the reports section at the end when there is no discussion under the legislation.

Councilman Crews pushed for an amendment to keep 30% of the money for the residents affected by the railroad. However, after his amendment failed, he voted for the original version.  Only Councilman Cefaratti (District 3), who represented half the residents affected by the railroad, and Councilman Richard Trojanski (District 6), who said he wouldn’t vote for it until the affected districts (3 and 5) were satisfied, voted against 2012-09.

Next, Council entered into a contract through ordinance 2012-24 with Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland to oversee the program.

Then, $163,761 was transferred to the NHS Fund (#255) created by 2012-27 with the stipulation that any remaining funds would go to the general fund upon the termination of the program. 2012-27 also terminated the railroad retribution fund (#299) and made provision for all future gate fees to be deposited in the general fund. At this time, $818,805 was transferred out of the railroad retribution fund and into the general fund.

Finally, 2012-40 was passed repealing 2004-149, 2007-70, 2009-81 and 2010-27 citing that the legislation was

ambiguous, vague and lacked criteria and guidance as to the purpose for which the funds could be used, which rendered the legislation unenforceable and subject to repeal.

The original legislation (2004-149) required the money to go to owner-occupants, the new legislation required that these owner occupants owned the property prior to 2000 when the intermodal was built, be current on their taxes and not in foreclosure. Residents were notified of the program via certified mail. Of the 42 homes listed in 2012-40 as qualifying due to proximity to the railroad, only 8 participated in the program, although during discussion on March 7th, it was reported that only 18 homes were eligible.

By spring of 2013 the work was completed and the NHS fund was emptied: $74,519 went to pay for the NHS program and the remaining $89,282 was transferred to the general fund. In 2014, the city’s general fund received the last of the ingate fees per the first settlement and the last piece of legislation (2012-27) with any tie to the “railroad retribution fund”.

That’s the end of the “railroad money” trail. Was it fair? Maybe, that depends on where you live.

 

 

 

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