Statesboro residents and all property owners in the city have yet to receive the first bill for the city's new stormwater fee, but will soon, and the city has a fledgling stormwater program with two employees.
Created by a vote of City Council in January, the new fee was first announced to take effect with the July billing. This was delayed to the bills that go out after Aug. 1, but the fee was counted as in effect from July 1, the start of the city's fiscal year.
"Nothing's changed. Everything's the same," said Stormwater Manager Marcos Trejo Jr. "It will be $3.95 for all single-family residences, and all commercial (addresses) will depend on how much impervious area they have."
For apartment complexes, businesses, nonprofit organizations and even schools and churches, the base fee of $3.95 for 3,200 square feet is multiplied by a measurement of their rain-impervious surfaces such as roofs and parking lots. For single-family homes, the monthly fee remains a flat $3.95 even if they have more than 3,200 square feet of impervious surface.
The idea is for owners of larger buildings and paved areas to pay in proportion to the runoff each contributes. The fee will fund maintenance and improvements to the city's storm drain system.
"We've been working with some of the bigger entities - like Bulloch County, the Board of Education, Georgia Southern, some of the apartment complexes - trying to help them out with the credit processes," Trejo said.
The city sent the 10 percent of fee payers with the biggest expected bills notices in March. Owners of large apartment complexes were also notified. A meeting was then held with larger private property owners who wanted further explanations and to look at surface area maps. Three showed up, he said.
GSU and county pay
Statesboro's biggest property owner is Georgia Southern University, which is exempt from property tax but not from utility bills.
In January, officials estimated that GSU's stormwater fees, based on impervious surfaces alone, would run to about $130,000 a year. But with credits for water resources education and stewardship, the university was expected to get a 50 percent bill reduction, the maximum.
After its credits, Georgia Southern was projected to pay the city about $5,400 a month.
Not even Bulloch County's public schools and county government are exempt.
Based on surface areas, Bulloch County Schools sites in the city had projected bills totaling more than $3,000 per month, or $36,000 for the year. But the schools Chief Financial Officer Troy Brown and Chief Operations Officer Paul Webb noted that they have applied for a 50 percent credit.
The county commissioners and County Manager Tom Couch have budgeted $30,000 to pay stormwater fees the first year on county facilities in Statesboro. These include Mill Creek Regional Park, the courthouse, the judicial annex, the North Main annex, the new annex and some smaller offices, but not the jail and correctional institute, which are outside the city limits.
Few credits appear likely for the older county sites, Couch said.
Residents and businesses can get credits for reducing the fees, but not all types of credits are available for all properties. For example, the credit for water conservation classes is just for schools. Credits for structures to control runoff, such as detention ponds, are restricted to properties bigger than single-family homes, except that subdivisions can be eligible collectively.
But single-family homes can qualify for credits for planting trees, having less than 1,600 square feet of impervious area (called a reduced footprint) or impervious area totaling less than 15 percent of a large lot (called a low-impact parcel), or for having no direct discharge to a city storm drain.
The credit manual can be found at www.statesboroga.gov/stormwater-utility.
Trejo said he has been meeting with customers, including individual residents, to explain the fee and credit application process.
Appointed as stormwater manager in January, Trejo is a civil engineer who has worked in the city's Engineering Department since 2008.
The program's first new hire is Kiara Martin as stormwater technician. A 2014 Georgia Southern graduate, also with a degree in civil engineering, she started work a month ago and will assist Trejo, he said, with inspections, credits and planning for capital improvement projects.
A four-member stormwater maintenance crew is also planned. The crew members have not been hired, but the city is advertising for applicants, Trejo said. He hopes some will be chosen from within the city workforce, to provide experience, with the others to be new hires.
The 2016 city budget projects revenue of $900,000 from the stormwater fee, plus $9,000 in late fees and interest and $1,200 from sale of drainage pipes.
Stormwater operations and maintenance costs are projected at $502,964. This would leave $407,236, and the budget shows $480,000 from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax being transferred to the program, providing $887,236 for longer-term projects.
For low-income seniors
City Council has a proposal pending to create a $3.95 monthly credit for residents age 65 and up who qualify as low-income. Offsetting the amount of the household stormwater fee, this credit would actually be applied to the solid waste portion of city utility bills.
"These are people on fixed incomes and budgets are already tight," said interim City Manager Robert Cheshire. "This is a good program, and we don't want it to hurt anybody financially."
This credit follows the example of some other cities, such as Savannah, he said.
Adoption of this credit was on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting, which Mayor Jan Moore cancelled for lack of a quorum when only two of the five council members arrived by 15 minutes after the 5:30 p.m. start time.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.