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Stow considering stormwater fee increase

Time for public comment on proposal slated for Sept. 8 city council meeting

by Jeff Saunders | reporter Published: August 14, 2016 12:00 AM
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Stow -- Property owners may soon see an increase in the city's stormwater fee and City Council would like to know what the public thinks about it.

Council gave second reading Aug. 11 to an ordinance that would increase the fee from $3 to $5 per month for single-family homes, with increases for larger properties varying. The fees go into the city's stormwater fund and is used to pay for stormwater control projects and maintenance,

Council President Mike Rasor set a Sept. 8 committee-of-the-whole meeting where the public is invited to comment. A start time has not been set, but it will come before the 7 p.m. regular meeting, during which the ordinance is scheduled for third and final reading.

Budget and Management Director John Earle told the Stow Sentry it is estimated that the fee increase would add about $500,000 annually to the approximately $800,000 the fee currently raises.

City Assistant Engineer Sheila Rayman said earlier this year that roughly half of the stormwater fee revenue every year is used to pay for maintenance of existing infrastructure, work that Law Director Amber Zibritosky said the city is legally obligated to do. City officials have estimated that at least $10 million is needed to do various projects.

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Council discussed increasing revenue for stormwater needs, but uncertainty arose last spring over competing plans proposed by the administration of Mayor Sara Kline, who did not attend the Aug. 11 meeting, and Councilor Brian Lowdermilk. In April, Rasor appointed Kline, Lowdermilk and Councilor Jim Costello to an ad hoc committee to try and hash out an agreement.

He told the Stow Sentry after the meeting that when the committee was unable to come to an agreement, he sat down with it and mediated in July.

"At this time, I'm still looking at the issue," he said. "It's clear we have to do something. Whether that's the best solution, I'm not sure."

Lowdermilk, who asked Rasor to schedule time for public comment, said he still has some qualms and would want to see a list of specific projects the money will be spent on before he would support the proposal.

"So if there is a fee increase, we know what it will be spent on," he said. "I'm not for increasing the fee, but I'm willing to consider an increase if I know it will go to specific projects."

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Costello said he sees the fee as "fair and equitable to businesses and residents."

"It's something that we need. It's something we should have had a long time ago," said Costello, adding that he believes more revenue than what the proposal would add will be needed eventually.

"It doesn't even come close to the money that will be needed," said Costello. "It's a start."

The fee, which is included on property owners' water bills, is based on equivalent rate units, with single-family homes and condominium units considered one ERU, and two- and three-family homes are two and three ERUs respectively.

The ordinance calls for the stormwater fee to increase by $2 monthly per ERU, to $5, and then "to account for inflation and rising project costs," to annually increase by 10 cents per month per ERU, beginning in 2017.

The amount charged for other properties including commercial, industrial, schools, churches, governmental and residential properties having multiple stories, is based on the amount of impervious surface, such as pavement that prevents water from sinking directly into the ground, on the property. Properties with less than 200 square feet of impervious surface are not charged.

The proposed ordinance places restrictions on revenue raised by the increase, saying it cannot be used for equipment purchases, city employee salaries or "general stormwater studies not otherwise related to a specifically identified stormwater project."

Last spring, the administration proposed raising the monthly fee by a flat $5, meaning that all property owners, no matter the number of ERUs, would pay an additional $5.

Kline said it was estimated that the $5 fee increase would raise an estimated $650,000 annually in additional revenue.

Lowdermilk's counter proposal at that time did not include increasing the fee and would have removed such costs as equipment purchases, labor and those associated with meeting federal and state Environmental Protection Agency requirements concerning stormwater quality, from the city's stormwater fund to other parts of the city's budget, such as the general and capital improvements funds.

Lowdermilk estimated that the alternative proposal would increase the amount available in the fund for stormwater projects by as much as $300,000 annually without a fee increase.

Lowdermilk said last spring that he did not like the flat fee because it would put a higher proportional burden on residents than on larger property owners. Kline said the flat fee is more business friendly and the city offers lower income residents waivers on fees.

Administration members, in turn, said Lowdermilk's proposal would simply shift costs to other parts of the city's budget.

Email: jsaunders@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9431

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