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City Council seeks ways to reduce likely stormwater fee increase

councilConnelly

P.J. Connelly

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Greenville City Council directed staff to examine current practices for collecting stormwater fees after reviewing a rate increase proposal that its members said was too costly, especially for apartment dwellers.

At the Council’s Monday workshop, staff presented the stormwater advisory committee’s recommendations for generating additional revenue to fund stormwater system improvements and repairs.

“We all agree there needs to be more money put towards stormwater but let’s not tax the heck out of the citizens,” Mayor P.J. Connelly said.

In November, the advisory committee reported the city’s stormwater system has more than 150 capital projects to manage flood control, improve water quality and stabilize stream banks. The city needs to spend about $15 million annually on the work but the current stormwater fee generates $6 million.

Increasing the existing stormwater fee would allow public works to increase the percentage of new infrastructure inspected annually, clean and inspect all open channels, shorten the period of time pipes and catch basins are cleaned and inspected, set aside money for emergency repairs and increase the amount of money available for capital projects during a five-year period, said Lisa Kirby, public works senior engineer.

The stormwater advisory committee recommended adding a monthly charge of $1.20 to fund administrative costs associated with operating the stormwater system. Connelly said he viewed such a fee as a “backdoor tax.”

The stormwater fee currently paid by property owners is based on an equivalent rate unit that is equal to 2,000 square feet of impervious surface — which is defined as buildings, patio, driveway, parking lots and other paved area.

Kirby showed the Council what fees are currently paid by the average, big box store, fast food restaurant, single-family residential property owner and the per-unit fee for a multi-story apartment building. She then showed how the fees would increase over a five-year period based on a $1, $2 and $3 increase.

For an average residential property with between 2,000-4,000 square feet of impervious surface, the currently monthly fee is $10.70. A $1 increase would raise it to $21.20 by fiscal year 2023-24, a $2 increase raises it to $29.20 and a $3 increase raises it to $40.20.

For a multi-story apartment, the average per unit rate is currently $1.76 a month. A $1 increase would raise it to $11.20, a $2 increase raises it to $15.20 and a $3 increase raises it to $21.20.

“I don’t know what tier I am, but that’s a lot of money,” Connelly said. The increases for apartment buildings would be especially difficult as they would be a financial hardship on some of the city’s more financially vulnerable residents, he said.

While Kirby showed the $3 increase, she said the stormwater advisory board believed it was cost prohibitive and shouldn’t be pursued. Council members agreed.

Councilman Will Litchfield said before there is a discussion about rate increases, he wanted to know how much money in uncollected fees is out there.

Greenville Utilities Commission collects the stormwater fee for the city. Is a bill sent to collect the fee if a utility is ended? Litchfield asked. If GUC receives a partial payment from a customer, how much, if any of the money does the stormwater fund receive?

The stormwater committee’s current recommendation is to fund projects as money becomes available. Litchfield asked if any thought had been given to obtaining a bond to pay for the work. Assistant City Manager Michael Cowin said it would cost more in the long run because interest would have to be paid.

Connelly likened the stormwater issue to the city’s issues with road repairs. For years, only a minimum amount of repair work was funded until the council was forced to invest more.

“The ultimate goal is we want growth into the city, to bring more people in to pay into this, but we don’t want to scare them away before they get here by charging them $80 a month (for) stormwater,” Connelly said.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.

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