Q & A
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- Last Updated: April 25, 2017 April 25, 2017
Q: Has the City Council already decided to charge a separate stormwater fee?
A: Yes. The City Council approved a separate stormwater service charge at the November 9, 2016 regular Council meeting. The needs of the stormwater system continue to grow and are diverting funds away from much needed improvements in the street and sewer programs. After reviewing potential funding alternatives, the Council has determined that a separate charge for stormwater services was the best funding method.
Q: Why would I get charged for the rain that falls on my property? I don’t have any control of whether it rains or not.
A: A stormwater utility is a means of fairly apportioning costs to properties in the City that use and/or benefit from the City’s stormwater system. Developed land creates stormwater runoff the City must manage through inlets, pipes, ditches, and other facilities. The City incurs costs from basic operations and maintenance, replacing old infrastructure, and complying with state and federal regulatory requirements. No other source of funding is available to adequately cover these costs that result in many benefits for Albany residents such as minimized street flooding, preventing disruption of service, lower cost repairs through proactive response vs. emergency response, improved riparian habitat, and cleaner waterways.
Q: Is this what I have heard referred to as a “Rain Tax”?
A: While some people have referred to stormwater service charges as a rain tax, a properly structured stormwater utility is not a tax but a fee for service. The stormwater service charge would not be based on property ownership or value but on use of the stormwater system. Revenues from stormwater service charges will be dedicated to providing stormwater services and cannot be used for general City programs like Police, Fire, and Library services. The issue of tax vs. fee for service has been previously litigated in Oregon; here is a link to the 1993 Oregon Supreme Court ruling.
Q: Doesn’t stormwater go into the sewer pipes and get treated at the City’s sewer plant?
A: No. Albany has a separate stormwater system consisting of approximately 128 miles of pipes and 70 miles of ditches that discharge to various waterways without treatment. In response to regulatory requirements, Albany has started to install some planters as natural stormwater treatment systems with road projects but most of Albany’s stormwater is discharged to waterways without treatment.
Q: Do other communities in Oregon charge for stormwater services? What do they charge?
A: Yes, approximately 40 other Oregon communities charge a separate fee for stormwater services. For a single family residential home owner, the service charges range from $1.00 per month in Sweet Home to $27.44 per month in Portland. Other examples of monthly stormwater charges for a typical home in surrounding communities include: $3.28, Lebanon; $6.90, Corvallis; and $14.09, Springfield.
Q: Can Albany choose not to comply with stormwater regulations imposed by the Federal EPA and Oregon DEQ?
A: If regulated entities do not comply with their Stormwater Permit requirements, EPA has the authority to impose penalties of up to $37,500, per violation, per day and the Oregon DEQ can impose penalties of $25,000 per day, per violation. When Salt Lake County, Utah failed to develop, implement, and enforce a stormwater program as required in their Stormwater Permit, they were required to pay a civil penalty of $280,000 and to also fully comply with their permit requirements [Consent Decree in United States, et al. v. Salt Lake County, Utah (DOJ Case No. 90-5-1-1-10984)].
In addition, there is the possibility of third-party, citizen lawsuits to require compliance. If the citizen lawsuit is successful, the City would also be liable to pay the third party’s attorney’s fees. In addition to civil penalties, there is the possibility of criminal prosecution if the violation was intentional.
Q: My property doesn’t drain to the City’s stormwater system; why should I have to pay a stormwater fee?
A: Regardless of where a property drains, properties receive services from a properly managed stormwater system. Also, regulatory requirements are imposed on the city as whole, not property-by-property. An example of a citywide service would be managing the stormwater system so the streets don’t flood. These systems have operations and maintenance costs, require periodic repair or replacements, and are subject to state and federal regulatory requirements. For more information, refer to the October 10, 2016 council memo.
Q: Don’t I currently pay for addressing stormwater issues as part of my sewer bill? Will my sewer bill go down when this new stormwater service charge goes into effect?
A: The limited stormwater activities the City currently performs were funded from both sewer and street funds prior to March 1, 2017. So, yes, you have been paying for some limited stormwater activities through your sewer bill. However, that funding is not adequate to comply with new state and federal regulatory requirements, conduct basic operations and maintenance, or replace failing infrastructure. Additional revenue is needed and the City Council has chosen to implement a separate stormwater service charge to generate those funds. The Council took action to simultaneously reduce sewer rates by 6% March 1. The Council will also reduce water rates by 2% at that time because the stormwater utility will share in account maintenance and billing costs that are currently funded through a combination of water and sewer rates.
Q: Will my stormwater bill come on the same bill as my sewer and water bill?
A: Yes, you will receive one bill from the City for sewer, water, and stormwater. The charges will be shown separately. The first utility bill that includes the stormwater charge will be prorated to reflect service charge changes for less than a full month. Subsequent bills will reflect the full monthly service charge for stormwater as well as a full month’s service charge reduction for water and sewer services.
Q: How will my stormwater bill be calculated?
Q: Why is gravel considered an impervious surface for stormwater billing of non-single family parcels?
A: From a technical perspective, gravel is defined as an impervious surface. In fact the two primary methods used to estimate stormwater runoff, the Rational Method and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Technical Release No. 55 (TR-55) both define runoff coefficients for gravel surfaces that are very similar to paved surfaces. The Rational Method runoff coefficient for pavement is 0.90 compared to 0.85 for gravel. The TR-55 method runoff coefficient for pavement is 98 and the runoff coefficient for gravel is as high as 91.
This is a common practice among utility providers and is supported by technical calculations as discussed further below. The topic of gravel was discussed extensively at the October 10, 2016 Council meeting. For more information, refer to the October 10, 2016 council outreach memo.
Q: What has the City done to inform and seek input on the stormwater service charge?
A: The City conducted a robust public outreach effort. A summary of public outreach and input received can be found in the October 10, 2016 Council Memo#1 – Outreach. Information will also be sent in the city utility bill prior to the stormwater service charge becoming effective, and will be sent to local media and social media outlets.
Q: When might I receive my first stormwater bill? Will I get any notice?
A: The stormwater rate becomes effective March 1, 2017 and the first bills with stormwater charges will be issued in early March. Notice will be provided prior to implementation with your city utility bill.
Q: How will the revenue from stormwater service charges be used?
A: Revenue from stormwater service charges will be used to cover the City’s costs for meeting state and federal regulatory requirements, conducting basic operations and maintenance activities, and replacing failing or undersized infrastructure. This translates to minimizing local flooding on private property and local streets which increases safety, protects property and other assets, protects natural resources, and improves water quality and assures regulatory compliance.
Q: I couldn’t find the answers to my questions. Who can I contact to get my questions answered?