Council considers credit and appeals program for proposed stormwater fee
On Monday, city council heard the details of a new stormwater credit and appeals program, one of the final pieces to the proposed stormwater fee and utility the city has been considering for the last year.
According to city staff and Black and Veatch officials, the credit program is meant to reduce the fee for non-residential parcels with rain gardens, green roofs and other measures to curb stormwater runoff, while the appeals process is for property owners who believe they were charged unfairly.
Some members of council expressed concerns with the credit program, which would give nonresidential properties in the city up to 10 percent off their stormwater bills for meeting state sediment and stormwater regulations and up to 25 percent for exceeding those requirements. Parcels that infiltrate 100 percent of runoff would get a 50 percent stormwater credit.
Council members Chris Hamilton and Jen Wallace were not in favor of a 10-percent credit just for meeting code. They felt non-residential properties should not be rewarded for complying with the law.
Approximately 55 percent of land in Newark is considered non-residential and 45 percent is residential, but residents would not be allowed to participate in the credit program, and that bothered Hamilton.
“Roughly a little over half of this city could suddenly, if they decide to invest their money in it, could all of a sudden reduce all their fees and 45 percent have no option to reduce their fees,” he said.
“If that happens, we’ve solved a lot of our problems,” explained Tom Coleman, acting city manager. He said stormwater mitigation efforts reduce the impact on the city’s stormwater system during heavy rainstorms, but Hamilton was still concerned.
Hamilton argued that Newark’s long list of stormwater projects need to be addressed and the city needs the money from the stormwater fee to do that. Over time, he said, if enough non-residential parcels receive credits to reduce their bills, there won’t be enough money in the stormwater fund. He added he’s especially worried about the University of Delaware.
“They have the resources; they own a huge chunk of this land; they could even, who knows, do it as one of their fun projects as they tear down trees,” he said. “I would hope that this plan would be flexible that if we see that trend going that we put a plug in it because the demands that we have on our stormwater, to fix the things that we have identified over the next 10 years is not going to change.”
In order to help cover the city’s stormwater management costs, Black and Veatch is recommending Newark implement a fee based on impervious surface and estimates it will cost residents anywhere from $1.73 to $5.20 each month. If approved, implementation of a stormwater fee would begin in 2018.
Under the firm’s suggested model, residential properties would be placed into tiers, with Tier 1 being any parcel with less than 1,289 square feet of impervious area. According to Black and Veatch Director Prahba Kumar, those property owners would pay $1.73 per month.
Residents with 1,290 to 1,950 square feet of impervious area – the most common type of parcel in the city – would pay $2.89 per month, and residents with 1,951 to 2,610 square feet of impervious area would pay $3.76 per month. Tier 4 residents with 2,611 square feet of impervious surface or more would pay $5.20 per month.
The rate for condominiums and non-residential properties would be individually calculated based on average runoff factor for that type of parcel, whether it’s a parking lot, commercial building, industrial site, a park or a cemeter y.
Councilman Stu Markham agreed if there are credits for non-residential parcels, there should be credits for residential parcels, too. He said residents who want to install rain gardens and other methods to curb runoff should be able to get a discount on their bills without having to go through the appeals process.
“There is no incentive,” Markham said. “There is nothing that says, ‘make things better.’”
Wallace suggested the city create a guide that explains different types of projects residents can do to receive credit.
“There are residents who, they wouldn’t know where to start, so we can offer them a place to start,” she said.
Coleman explained the credit application costs $150, so residents would have to install a project that saves several hundred dollars a year for it to be worth it. That’s why it makes the most sense for non-residential properties, he said.
Still, Wallace didn’t think that seemed fair.
“Residents aren’t going to like this,” she said.
Council informally directed staff to move forward with finalizing an ordinance for a stormwater fee to be voted on at a future meeting.
Main Street floods after heavy thunderstorms moved through Newark last June. The city is planning to charge residents a stormwater fee to raise money to fix the aging storm sewers.