City looks at instituting storm water utility fees

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(Posted March 22, 2018)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

To raise money for storm water system repairs, the city of London is looking at instituting a monthly fee for residential and commercial users.

“We have a very aging storm water system, one that has had several failures that we’ve fixed over the past 12 to 14 months,” said council member Rex Castle at the March 15 council meeting.

Last year, council approved the transfer of $350,000 out of the general fund into the storm water utility fund. To date $150,000 of that sum has been transferred. Bill Long, street superintendent, said legislation will come before council next month for the transfer of the other $200,000.

“With the capital items we’ve had to expend and the budgets we’ve passed, we’re starting to spread our general fund somewhat thin,” Castle said. “We can’t continue to transfer that out of the general fund. We need the help of the citizens because this is to help them.”

Currently, the Board of Public Utilities does not collect a fee for repairs and maintenance to the storm water system. If passed, the storm water utility fee would be $3 per month for residential meters and $9 per month for commercial and business meters.

“It may not be the most fair way to do it,” Castle said, explaining that time-consuming research and surveys of lot sizes, building square footage, and parking lot sizes are needed to fine tune the fee. “But we need to get something moving to generate some revenues.”

The fee would generate $120,000 to $130,000 per year specifically for storm water repairs and maintenance.

“It’s not a lot of money, but it’s a beginning,” Castle said.

He noted that council might want to add a hardship clause to exempt residents with disabilities, on fixed incomes, or living in poverty from paying the fee.

“I think we ought to be a little sensitive to people who might not be able to afford this,” he said.

Newly appointed council member Andrew Hitt suggested basing the fee on a percentage of a person’s income. Castle said such a format would require the city to put the question on the ballot.

“That would require a levy campaign,” Castle said. “I don’t think we could wait a year and a half to start generating revenue.”

Council member Henry Comer asked if the city could find funds elsewhere in the budget or from other sources to avoid charging citizens. Council is approving salary increases and other expenditures, he said; could they be doing something else with the budget to prevent the fee, he asked.

“Typically, your general fund is used for public service. This is out of the realm of that. This falls under the utility umbrella–water, sewer and sanitation,” Castle replied. “We’ve taken it out of the general fund in an emergency type basis to get things done because we basically would have a mess if we didn’t do it.”

Regarding salary increases, Castle said he feels they are necessary to attract and retain qualified city employees.

Hitt asked if grants were available to cover storm water expenses.

“We explore those perpetually,” said Joe Mosier, safety-service director.

Long said the city completed a couple of projects in 2017 using Community Development Block Grant funds but added that such funds are only available every two years.

“We need continual funding to maintain these systems. The problems we had last year were due to lack of maintenance over time of those systems,” said Joe Russell, council president. “We know no one likes increases, but if we’re not able to fund the ability to maintain those systems, it’s only a matter of time before we’re back in that same place.”

By state law, cities with a population of 10,000 or more must have a plan in place for funding storm water system repairs and maintenance. Castle said London will hit the 10,000 mark officially with the next census in 2020.

The proposed fee will be up for a second reading at council’s April 5 meeting.

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