MOUNT VERNON — The Storm Water Advisory Committee spent most of its second session Tuesday learning about funding and rate structure options if a storm water utility in created.
The first meeting, held in February, looked at the need for a utility as the city works to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards for discharging storm water into the “waters of the state,” usually meaning local rivers.
Storm water picks up pollutants from streets, parking lots, construction sites, parks and other sources and much of what the city has to do to comply with the standards of the discharge permit fall on the Street Department, including street sweeping, leaf collection, catch basin maintenance and repair, culvert maintenance and repair, ditching and sinkhole repairs. In fact, stormwater services use up 50 percent of the man-hours and 60 percent of the budget of the Street Department.
The city basically has three options, Hazen and Sawyer senior associate Lisa Jeffrey told the group. It can do nothing, maintaining the existing level of funding through General Fund and gas tax revenue; it can increase the proportion of funding coming from the General Fund, or it can increase funding through creation of a stormwater utility.
A utility would assess a service fee for stormwater management, thereby creating a stable funding source.
Jeffrey noted that it is equitable, as it is based on the use of the system, it’s legally defensible (over 100 systems in Ohio have created strong legal precedents) and its stability allows long-range planning, supports staff and equipment needs and provides local matches for grants.
Incentives can be added for compliance by granting credits for stormwater management practices for best management practices such as creation of stormwater retention ponds.
Most utilities (89 percent) use some form of Impervious Area Accounting, usually the Equivalent Residential Unit. This is determined by a sampling of homes throughout Mount Vernon and determining the average square footage of impervious area per residence.
The property of a large commercial or industrial development would be expressed in equivalent residential units (ERU) and assessed accordingly, but credits could reduce that bill, In the case of a university like Mount Vernon Nazarene, which maintains its own streets and storm sewers, credits could reduce its bill.
Bruce Malek asked if the consultants had determined the cost of what is needed for stormwater work and Jeffrey explained they are in the process of putting together all those figures. She added that Mount Vernon is ahead of the game because the Engineering Department began separating out some of those costs, especially in the Street Department, in 2016. She said he expects to have a more complete picture of costs in time for the April meeting.
Credits might also be earned by programs such as education efforts in schools or pollution control community service projects, as well as “best management practices” of stormwater control for construction projects or improvements made on private property. Credits would not be offered on basic residential units. Jeffrey said that in some communities, even when credits have been offered, they haven’t been applied for.
Jeffrey said they are looking at the numbers now to determine the size of an assessment needed to start and maintain a viable program.
Typically, she said, community assessments have been in the range of $4 to $6 per month per ERU.
City Engineer Brian Ball said in looking at the utility, they are not looking to create a whole new department, with its own engineering division, but finding a way to fund needed work and spread it out, maybe by adding a person in engineering or in the Street Department.
Councilwoman Nancy Vail expressed concern about what happens with unpaid bills and whether the bill would be affordable. She was informed that, like other utility bills, they stay with the property and, if unpaid, can be assessed as a lien against the property.
The next meeting will be held April 16 at City Hall and will look at factors such as cost and credits.