City Council voted Tuesday to proceed with the second half of a study that prepares Statesboro for a city stormwater department and a monthly fee to fund it.
The council is expected to vote in December on whether to create the department and fee.
Ecological Planning Group, based in Savannah, received $74,125 for the first phase of the study, approved by Statesboro City Council last May. EPG created a map of 47 major projects to fix known drainage problems citywide at a projected cost of $2.3 million. In a pilot study, the firm also took a closer look at 20 percent of the system, identifying damaged storm drain structures, clogs and other problems showing a need for repairs and regular maintenance.
City Engineer Robert Cheshire and City Manager Frank Parker said the city has no current funding source to fix many of these problems, which were highlighted by flooding last summer.
Two weeks ago, when EPG owner Courtney Reich brought a proposal for the second phase of the work, costing $75,870, council postponed a decision. Councilman Will Britt said he wanted to contact other Georgia cities that have created the fee-funded departments known as stormwater utilities.
After checking with officials in Americus and Valdosta, Britt made the motion Tuesday to move forward, and Councilman Travis Chance seconded.
"After looking at it, I just feel that we're not going to have the opportunity to fix some of the things that we have to fix without coming up with a new public utility," Britt said.
However, he also noted that the vote would not be to approve the department and fee, but only to fund the second phase of the preparations.
Besides a Geographic Information System inventory of the drainage system, this phase will include work to establish an account file for billing and customer education on how the fee would work. Reich's timeline suggests that council will vote in December on whether to establish a stormwater utility. EPG would then do more prep work and public education, leading to the first bills going out in July 2015.
The fee would be based on the area of impermeable surfaces such as roofs, driveways and parking lots on a property. For single-family homes, the fee would be a flat rate, suggested at $4.25 a month, based on an average 3,500 square feet of impermeable surface. For apartments, businesses and industries, fees would be based on actual impermeable surface area as a multiple of the residential standard.
The fees would be assessed on all addresses, unlike property taxes, from which many Statesboro properties are exempt, Cheshire noted. However, residents and property owners could earn credits, if the council chooses to create these, for things such as detention pools or rain barrels that catch stormwater.
At the previous meeting, Councilman Phil Boyum expressed concern that approving the second phase would commit the city to charging the fee. Tuesday, he said it was not something to rush into.
"Let me be clear. I've got a lot of ditches up in my district and I'm not necessarily opposed to it. Please understand that," Boyum said. "But we're creating a utility that's going to live on in perpetuity as long as the city of Statesboro is around."
If in December the council decides not to enact a fee, EPG's work would stop and the city would not owe the full $75,870, Reich said. The GIS data would still be useful to the city for stormwater projects and other purposes, she said.
When Boyum asked how much the city would then owe EPG, Reich gave an off-the-cuff estimate of $45,000. But Mayor Jan Moore agreed that the city could not hold her to this. Her contract contains lump sum and hourly fees for various tasks.
In any case, City Council will decide how much the stormwater fee will be if there is one. The residential rate of $4.25 is a suggestion from EPG that would fund a department with a budget of about $1 million a year. Britt commented that the council could decide to "dial back" to a smaller fee.
With Councilman John Riggs absent, the council voted 4-0 to proceed with the second-phase contract.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.