Council approves stormwater charge
Fee equivalent to 7 percent tax hike for average resident
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.