Coun­cil ap­proves stormwa­ter charge

Fee equiv­a­lent to 7 per­cent tax hike for av­er­age res­i­dent

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­pub.com

Cap­ping years of dis­cus­sion, city coun­cil on Mon­day ap­proved a plan to charge ev­ery landowner in the city a monthly fee to fund up­grades to the stormwa­ter sys­tem.

Start­ing in Jan­uary, home­own­ers will pay between $1.77 and $5.31 each month, which for the av­er­age res­i­dent is akin to a 7 per­cent tax in­crease, of­fi­cials said.

The pro­posal passed 4-2, with op­pos­ing votes from Coun­cil­men Stu Markham and Mark More­head, who both said they sup­port the idea in prin­ci­ple but had un­re­solved con­cerns. Coun­cil­man Luke Chap­man was ab­sent.

Sup­port­ers of the mea­sure ac­knowl­edged it’s not per­fect but be­lieved it was time to move for­ward.

“To me, while all the kinks are not ironed out, we’ve re­ally come a long way with this,” Coun­cil­woman Jen Wal­lace said, not­ing it’s a big im­prove­ment over the $7.50 flat fee orig­i­nally pro­posed in 2013. “This is the most eq­ui­table and will be the low­est im­pact to our res­i­dents.”

Coun­cil­man Jerry Clifton con­curred.

“Is it per­fect? Maybe not, but you’re not go­ing to get per­fect,” he said. “If it were pos­si­ble to poll ev­ery res­i­dent, you’ll prob­a­bly get 20,000 opin­ions on dif­fer­ent ways to do this.”

Tim Fi­lasky, deputy di­rec­tor of pub­lic works, ex­plained that the money raised through the fee will be used to fund var­i­ous stormwa­ter projects, such as re­plac­ing old pipes, retrofitting stormwa­ter basins, im­prov­ing drainage ar­eas and re­pair­ing out­falls. The money will also fund catch-basin clean­ing and ex­panded street clean­ing.

No­tably, though, the money does not cover the pro­posed stormwa­ter pond at the Rod­ney dorm site. If vot­ers ap­prove the project in a ref­er­en­dum next year, the stormwa­ter fee will be in­creased to pay for it. Of­fi­cials es­ti­mate the fee would in­crease any­where from $0.82 to $1.36 per month for the av­er­age home­owner, with larger prop­er­ties pay­ing more.

Un­der the fee struc­ture ap­proved Mon­day, the stormwa­ter util­ity is ex­pected to bring in ap­prox­i­mately $1.4 mil­lion each year. Of that, 50 per­cent will be paid by com­mer­cial landown­ers, 28 per­cent by the Univer­sity of Delaware and 14 per­cent by res­i­dents. The re­main­ing 8 per­cent is from land owned by the city and will be paid through trans­fers from the gen­eral fund.

Fi­lasky ar­gued the stormwa­ter fee is more eq­ui­table than rais­ing taxes to pay for needed im­prove­ments be­cause even tax-ex­empt prop­er­ties – such as UD – are re­quired to pay the fee. While the ap­proved fee is equiv­a­lent to a 7 per­cent tax hike, if tax­pay­ers alone shoul­dered the bur­den, it would re­quire a 21 per­cent tax in­crease.

Based on a sim­i­lar con­cept in Wilm­ing­ton, the com­plex stormwa­ter fee sys­tem was de­vel­oped by a con­sul­tant the city hired last year for ap­prox­i­mately $100,000. It takes into ac­count the amount of im­per­vi­ous sur­faces – build­ings, park­ing lots and other hard sur­faces that pre­vent rain­wa­ter from seep­ing into the ground – that are present on a prop­erty.

Res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties are di­vided into four tiers based on the amount of im­per­vi­ous sur­face. The most com­mon res­i­den­tial par­cel falls into Tier 2, which pays $2.95 per month.

Res­i­dents can see what tier their home falls into by vis­it­ing tinyurl. com/newark­stormwa­ter.

Less is known, how­ever, about the im­pact on busi­nesses and other large prop­erty own­ers. Those fees are cal­cu­lated us­ing a math­e­mat­i­cal for­mula that takes into ac­count the prop­erty’s size and use.

The largest landown­ers will likely see monthly fees into the hun­dreds or even thou­sands of dol­lars, but city of­fi­cials have not pub­licly re­vealed any spe­cific amounts beyond the res­i­den­tial tiers.

The Ne­wark Post re­quested a list of the top com­mer­cial prop­erty own­ers and how much they will pay, but city spokes­woman Kelly Bach­man said Mon­day af­ter­noon that no such list was avail­able.

Fi­lasky said the city will hold three pub­lic meet­ings later this fall to ed­u­cate res­i­dents about the im­pact of the stormwa­ter fee. Of­fi­cials also plan to meet in­di­vid­u­ally with the 50 prop­erty own­ers who will pay the most.

While the stormwa­ter fee has been dis­cussed at sev­eral coun­cil meet­ings over the last two years, More­head ques­tioned why the ad­di­tional pub­lic outreach is oc­cur­ring only af­ter the fee was ap­proved.

“We seem to be putting cart be­fore the horse, hav­ing pub­lic com­mu­ni­ca­tion af­ter coun­cil has al­ready voted,” he said. “That con­cerns me.”

The leg­is­la­tion passed Mon­day also es­tab­lishes a process for prop­erty own­ers to ap­peal the amount of their stormwa­ter fee. Non-res­i­den­tial prop­erty own­ers can also re­ceive cred­its for con­struct­ing stormwa­ter man­age­ment fa­cil­i­ties.

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