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Council weighs options to fund stormwater system improvements

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Work continues on the Town Creek Culvert project at Fifth Street on March 25, 2019. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Greenville City Council members are divided over how much they should increase fees to raise money for repairs and improved maintenance of the stormwater system.

Staff presented the council with two new options for increasing fees at its Monday workshop meeting. The new options were developed after council members said three proposals presented in February were too costly.

Raising the monthly stormwater utility fee charged homeowners, businesses and institutions  will cover the costs of maintaining ditches, piping and other infrastructure that takes stormwater runoff from streets, parking lots and neighborhoods into the Tar River.

The city’s stormwater system has more than 150 capital projects that are needed to manage flood control, improve water quality and stabilize stream banks. Staff said the city needs to spend about $15 million annually on the work but the current stormwater fee, which is $10.70 for the average residential property with between 2,000-4000 square feet of impervious surface, generates $6 million.

Assistant City Manager Michael Cowin presented alternatives that would allow the city to fund capital improvement projects through debt payments and to perform yearly maintenance.

The first recommendation would raise the existing monthly fee by $2 in a five-year period. The second was for a $4 increase over that same period.

With the $2 increase, the monthly fee for the average residential property owner would be $14.70 in fiscal year 2023-24. With a $4 increase, the monthly fee would be $18.70 for the same property over the same time period.

Under the original recommendations, the same household would pay between $21.20 and $40.20 — depending on the amount of the increase — over the same five-year period.

Cowin said whether it’s a $2 or $4 increase, the city would have $1.5 million of new revenue dedicated to annual preventative maintenance, including clearing ditches and other public channels yearly, cleaning and inspecting catch basins every two-and-a-half years, cleaning and inspecting all pipes every seven years, auditing utility bills and doing a full condition assessment every 20 years.

The remaining revenue would pay off debt to fund improvement projects. Cowin said the $2 fee would allow the city to fund $15.2 million in debt and a $4 fee would fund $25.5 million in debt.

One caution Cowin stressed is the new preventative maintenance, along with the design and execution of the improvement project, will require 16 additional employees, including four heavy equipment operators and multiple construction personnel.

“You can’t find staff like heavy equipment operators overnight,” Cowin said.

He proposed that council start the fee increase in fiscal year 2019-20, but delay the preventative maintenance work until fiscal year 2020-21 to give the city time to hire staff. It also would give staff time to design the capital improvement projects and obtain funding.

Councilman Brian Meyerhoeffer asked if any of the capital improvement projects could be classified as transformative for the city.

“The increased maintenance will be transformative,” said Public Works Director Kevin Mulligan.

Mayor P.J. Connelly asked if regular maintenance could extend the life of the city’s stormwater infrastructure. Lisa Kirby, public works senior engineer, said yes, because small problems can be repaired.

“I think everyone is resigned to the face we have to raise rates,” Meyerhoeffer said. He supported the $2 increase because he questioned if enough staff would be available in time to undertake $25.5 million in projects.

“We don’t want to over-tax citizens, but when we do tax citizens we want to make sure it’s used as effectively as possible,” Councilman Rick Smiley said. He said he believed the $4 increase was the better option because more projects could be funded over a shorter period of time. Council members Will Litchfield and Monica Daniels also preferred the $4 fee.

Connelly said he was leaning towards the $2 increase because he wanted to see how maintenance could affect some of the capital project recommendations. Councilwoman Rose Glover also preferred the $2 fee.

As mayor, Connelly only votes on an issue if there is a tie vote.

Councilman Will Bell said he wasn’t ready to make a decision.

“I understand we’ve gotten input from the stormwater advisory committee,” Bell said. “I would love to more (community) input.” He said he has received no emails or telephone calls about the likely fee increase.

City Manager Ann Wall said staff will develop a formal presentation on the $2 and $4 recommendations which will be presented to the council in April. Staff would like a decision at that time so the increase can be incorporated into the proposed fiscal year 2019-20 budget.

Sports Council

The City Council gave the Greenville-Pitt County Convention and Visitors Bureau the authority to allocate $275,000 from its $1.2 million capital expense budget to fund the creation of a sports council.

Sports tourism is the fast growing market segment in travel and tourism, said Andrew Schmidt, the bureau’s executive director, and it is considered recession proof.

“Parents who have kids in travel ball will spend money on travel ball and forgot vacations,” he said.

Sports tourism generated $8.25 million in fiscal year 2016-17 and nearly $14 million in fiscal year 2017-18, he said.

However, the growth is leveling off because the bureau lacks the staff and funding to pursue more tournaments and sporting events, Schmidt said. A council would increase efficiency and effectiveness of recruiting sports and more money allows for more marketing and recruitment.

Economic development

The City Council unanimously approved a resolution expressing its commitment to participating in the public-private economic development partnership currently under development.

Walls said the working group is developing a board structure, staffing model and fundraising initiatives for the organization.

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