MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon City Council is moving the city forward in its quest to establish a stormwater utility after adopting legislation that will allow administration to contract with a company for a stormwater utility study.
During a 30-minute committee meeting prior to the legislative session, City Engineer Brian Ball explained he, and Mayor Richard Mavis, interviewed three companies last week and concluded Hazen and Sawyer was the best fit as the group’s sole focus is on water and wastewater.
The study will determine the city’s current stormwater assets as well as its needs in order to determine how much it would cost to operate the utility. Not until these figures are established will the city be able to determine a cost for residents and commercial properties, Ball said.
Hazen and Sawyer, once under contract, will work with the city for a 12-month period. Ball outlined three phases to the process, with the bulk of the work coming in the first six to seven months, which would include the needs assessment, analysis of city parcels and the start of a dialogue with city property owners. The second phase would include a rate study, developing a credit program for commercial properties, drafting an ordinance and then creating a policy and procedure manual. The final phase would include additional public involvement and the process of implementing the ordinance.
Initiating a stormwater utility has been discussed by administration and council for several years and the city maintains a “fix as fail” process to the infrastructure rather than scheduled maintenance to the system that moves stormwater away from the wastewater treatment plant where unnecessary treatment is a high-cost expense.
Billing for the utility would begin six or seven months into the process, but not until after legislation, which will include rates, is approved by City Council.
Third Ward Councilwoman Nancy Vail suggested administration keep in mind that residents are still adjusting to the increase in water/wastewater rates as well the voter-approved income tax increase.
Mavis said administration looked at rates for other municipalities and those rates ranged from $3 to $6.50 a month. Ball emphasized, however, that until the assessment is complete, there is no way to estimate what the rate schedule could look like. It is anticipated though, that residential properties would be charged a flat monthly fee. Commercial properties would have the ability to apply for credits based on best practices for water runoff including things like rain barrels and rain gardens.
Keeping lines of communication open throughout the city will be crucial and part of why Hazen and Sawyer was selected.
“We will have checkpoints throughout the whole process,” Ball said. “We will have [Hazen and Sawyer] here to address council, we will have them help facilitate public meetings.”
Ball also addressed city deficiencies in reducing discharge of pollutants pointed out by the Environmental Protection Agency. Creation of the stormwater utility will allow the city to come into compliance with those requirements, which include public involvement and participation, illicit discharge detection and elimination, construction and post-construction runoff control and good housekeeping for municipal operations.
It is expected that it will take several weeks to write the contract with Hazen and Sawyer and negotiate a fee. Ball said federal law requires the city to select a company for the study before rates could be discussed. Because Hazen and Sawyer has already implemented similar studies for other municipalities, Ball expects the costs to be reduced, although he has budgeted $100,000 for the study, some of which is now expected as an expenditure for 2019.