City Council received a first reading Tuesday of an ordinance that, if approved, will create a monthly fee on virtually every address in Statesboro for the improvement and maintenance of storm drains.
For single-family homes, the fee will be a flat $3.95 per month. But businesses, schools, churches, civic organizations and owners of office and apartment complexes will be charged $3.95 for every 3,200 square feet of impervious surface area. Credits will be available for steps taken to reduce runoff or conserve water.
The fee, which won't be collected until July, is calculated to net about $1 million a year. After street flooding such as occurred in 2013, city officials identified portions of Statesboro's drainage system that needed improvement but said that current funding sources do not supply enough money.
For more than a year, the Savannah-based Ecological Planning Group, or EPG, owned by Courtney Reich, has been working with Statesboro city employees to study the drainage system and its shortcomings and develop a plan.
Reich and interim City Manager Robert Cheshire both recommended Tuesday that City Council adopt what Reich called the stormwater user fee.
"We have recommended the stormwater user fee because we feel that it's the most fair and equitable way to raise money to fund stormwater services," Reich said. "It allocates the cost of the program to the users of the service in accordance with how much they utilize the service and what kind of demands they put on the stormwater system, unlike property tax."
Even organizations that are exempt from property taxes, such as churches and schools, will be expected to pay the fee, just as they pay water bills. Only undeveloped land will be exempt.
More than 250 miles
In an area of almost 14 square miles, Statesboro has about 260 linear miles of storm drains. The system, Cheshire reported, includes about 70 miles of storm pipe, 156.5 miles of ditches, 33.5 miles of drainage canals and streams, and about 5,500 components.
"And all of this system needs to be maintained by the stormwater program on a regular schedule to ensure that it functions and operates properly," he said, closely paraphrasing a written report.
Citywide, consultants and city staff members have identified 53 stormwater projects "in need of varying degrees of attention by the city," Cheshire said. Some of these are water-detention areas associated with parks and green space being maintained by the city.
Together, the projects have an estimated cost of $3.9 million. Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money is available for some drainage improvements, but SPLOST funds can only be used for capital projects and not for maintenance.
Looking at just 20 percent of the system in a survey earlier this year, Reich's consulting firm indentified problems suggesting a need for better maintenance, as well as longer-term solutions. These included 112 damaged drain structures, 105 areas with significant sediment problems, and 96 with "habitual or problematic" debris accumulation.
The fee would fund a "stormwater utility" like the city water and natural gas utilities, but smaller in cost and scope.
As now proposed, the new utility will not be a separate department of the city government. Instead, the city engineer will also be designated the "stormwater utility director," and employees of the engineering and public works departments will continue to do the storm system maintenance.
The $3.95 fee being proposed is 30 cents less than the $4.25 per billing unit EPG suggested in April, when the first half of its study was presented to council.
"We were able, through the ongoing analysis that we have done, to identify additional billing units, so that allowed us to lower the rate and still generate the level of service that we believe is necessary," Reich said Tuesday.
The 3,200-square-foot billing unit is based on a typical residential lot's impervious surface area. Impervious surfaces are things such as roofs, sidewalks and parking areas that prevent rainwater absorption, increasing runoff.
For structures other than single-family residences, the fee will be the impervious area divided by 3,200 square feet and multiplied by $3.95.
Residents and property owners can potentially cut their bill by up to 50 percent by applying for credits, which are also spelled out in the proposed ordinance and a credit manual.
The credits will reduce the revenue the fee generates, but city officials said they will promote the credits to reduce runoff and the potential need to spend more on the drainage system.
"I want people to be proactive," Cheshire said in an interview. "I want people to do everything they can to get that number reduced."
Addresses other than single-family residences can qualify for credits by installing a detention pond, removing some paving or other impervious material, or taking other actions spelled out in the proposed manual. A school can also qualify for credits by offering classes on water conservation.
A family home can qualify for credits for rain barrels, cisterns, rain gardens, or bio-retention cells, or by having less than half the 3,200 square feet of impervious area. Other credits are spelled out in the proposed user fee credit manual, which is included with the proposed ordinance in City Council's packet from Tuesday's meeting, at www.statesboroga.gov.
The council is slated to vote on the new city law creating a "stormwater utility," and on a resolution setting the amount of the fee, Jan. 6.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.