MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon residents could be billed $6 per month to contribute toward repairs and maintenance of the city’s stormwater removal system.
In a 55-minute Utilities Commission hearing Monday, council heard recommendations from the Stormwater Advisory Council (SWAC), which formed in 2018 to determine if a stormwater utility was an option for the city. Their findings, as reported to council, are that a stormwater utility is needed, and that $6 per month is the right amount to begin addressing an aging and ailing stormwater system.
The SWAC’s findings were summarized by Kathleen Smith, of Hazen and Sawyer. Hazen and Sawyer have been helping guide the SWAC. Background on the issue was provided by Lisa Jeffrey, also with Hazen and Sawyer; additional input also came from City Engineer Brian Ball.
Jeffrey said that the city is currently out of compliance with its EPA Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit. The permit monitors pollution that gets into the Kokosing River, picked up by rainwater as it washes down city streets; construction pollutants washed out from construction sites; and general maintenance of the stormwater system.
Funds from the stormwater utility can be used to correct these issues and bring the city back into compliance with the EPA. It can also be used to repair stormwater infrastructure and be used to leverage grants for larger projects that would require a local cash match.
The $6 fee was arrived at based on an average residential home size, or Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) of 2,900 square feet. Commercial, industrial, churches and schools would be charged based on the number of ERUs their structure or structures take up. As an example, Jeffrey said that Lowes, representing about 423,000 square feet, would be billed at 146 ERUs.
The suggested $6 fee may just be a starting point. Jeffrey said the rate can be adjusted up or down as needed. However, she said that the fees “typically go up, unfortunately.”
The money raised by the utility fees would be deposited in its own account.
Non-residential users would be eligible to obtain credits up to 50 percent of their total bill by participating in agreements for education or maintenance.
Mount Vernon has an estimated 19,991 ERUs. Without credits, and assuming everyone pays their bills, that would add up to $1,439,352 per year.
Ball said the amount would not pay for all the work that needs to be done. However, Ball said he hopes to use the stormwater funds to leverage a large grant-funded project every three years or so.
The stormwater utility could further be used to fix storm water issues on private property. In that case, all affected parties would be billed extra, with the extra amount going to fixing the stormwater issue. The extra amount would be temporary, Ball said.
Council is expected to have legislation on the issued drafted by the next council meeting. A public hearing will follow in July.
Originally scheduled for 45 minutes, the committee meeting ran over by 10 minutes, leaving five minutes for the recess between committee hearings and council’s legislative session. As Councilmember Chris Menapace called for the meeting to adjourn, SWAC committee member Bruce Malek stepped forward and asked to speak. Menapace said the hearing was over, and no further discussion could be held. Malek continued to talk for a few minutes, during which time several members of council and city administrators left the council chambers.
During a Planning and Zoning committee meeting to discuss an ordinance that gives Mount Vernon Police the option to compel landlords to evict tenants whose behavior is deemed a nuisance, City Law Director Rob Broeren said eviction is just one option.
The ordinance allows police to serve notice on a landlord if their tenants have two criminal convictions on a wide variety of misdemeanor offenses within a period of six months, or one felony drug violation in six months, that the tenant committed on the premises. If there is a subsequent violation, the landlord has to evict the tenant or face fines, have their property boarded up and the tenant evicted, and/or be charged with a misdemeanor.
When asked by the News outside the meeting what the other options are, Broeren said the other options fall between service of the notice and a subsequent offense, if any, or after a problem tenant has been removed. Broeren said the landlord can correct the problem with the tenant — which, according to the ordinance, would mean keeping the tenant from committing no further crimes — or be sure not to allow further criminal activity with new tenants. Police don’t have to push for an eviction, instead opting to fine the landlord, Broeren said.
The ordinance was on for final reading Monday. Councilmember Nancy Vail moved that the ordinance only go through a second reading, with another committee meeting before the next meeting of council to discuss it.
Councilmember John Francis said the ordinance represents “round two” on his promise to fight drugs in his ward. Citing the need for the ordinance, Francis said that at one property in his neighborhood in an eight-month period, there were 58 incidents that drew a police response and eight incidents that drew a response from fire/EMS.
The issue of finding a preferred trash hauler will be discussed in a public meeting June 17. Menapace said input will be taken from trash haulers at the meeting, and stressed that the system being pursued is that of a “preferred hauler.” That would mean the city would go with one hauler that residents would choose to go with by ‘opting-in’, or do nothing and stay with the hauler of their choice.
The meeting will be held in council chambers.
Also Monday, council:
•Read a proclamation declaring June 10, 2019, as Sam Bethea Day. Bethea, a Mount Vernon High School graduate, was honored for winning the gold in the 2019 state track meet in the 110 meter hurdles. The feat has not been matched in more than 20 years by a Mount Vernon High School athlete. Mayor Richard Mavis presented the proclamation to Bethea, who was in attendance at the meeting with family and friends. Council gave Bethea a standing ovation.
•Heard an update on Knox Area Transit’s new shuttle service bringing workers from outlying villages into the city’s industrial park, as presented by KAT Operations Manager Martin McAvoy.
•Held a second reading of an ordinance regulating golf cart traffic in the city. Originally scheduled for a final hearing, Councilmember Mike Hillier asked that the issue be brought up again in a committee meeting prior to the next meeting of council for any final questions.
•Approved a resolution to sell city property at online auction.
•Held a brief question and answer session with Main Street Mount Vernon Executive Director Carrie Hyman regarding the Strategic Development Plan for the downtown area. Vail questioned Hyman about Main Street’s funding, including the use of city bed tax funds to pay for the executive director salary.