If residents want to stop bailing water out of their basements due to yet another flood, they are going to have to dig into their pockets to pay a tax for infrastructure fixes.
City Council gave the go-ahead to two engineering firms at a Jan. 26 meeting to prepare a proposal for a study, which if approved by council would ultimately determine just what the city should charge residents and businesses for a stormwater fee, which would then be administered by what is known as a stormwater utility.
That fee, which would be collected on a monthly basis, would range somewhere between $3 and $10 and would be used to pay for infrastructure fixes – a stormwater management plan – which Bramhall Engineering has already presented to the city and would cost $4.5 million to institute.
Bramhall and GPD Group out of Akron, if there proposal is approved, will jointly conduct what is essentially a stormwater fee study which, when completed, will determine the most fair and equitable way to determine the cost of the stormwater fee for residents and businesses. The study would cost $200,000 if City Council were to approve it and when completed will not only present a rate scale but also the legal document needed to implement it.
Stormwater utilities, as they are known, do not come without controversy. The Northeast Regional Sewer District’s attempt to institute one has been legally challenged and is now awaiting a hearing in front of the state Supreme Court. Elyria’s been working for three years to institute one, but has met push back from commercial businesses.
When listening to politicians and engineers discuss stormwater utilities one’s head can begin to spin and one’s eyes glaze over. But broken down to its simplest form it’s a fee a government agency charges its residents and businesses to carry storm water out of the city to avoid flooding. It’s essentially calculated based on how much impervious surface (rooftops, driveway, patio, tennis court) a resident or business has on its property.
With that in mind some of the discussion during the Jan. 26 hearing centered on how to make sure the fee, otherwise known as an Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU), would be fairly assessed.
Establishing the ERU is what the study boils down to, a point driven home by North Ridgeville law Director Andy Crites.
“The nuts and bolts of this (study) is this computation of the ERU. That’s everything,” Crites said.
Mayor Dave Gillock believes the ERU should be a fee that is charged in the same manner as a garbage fee. That said, if one owns a tiny house on Lear Nagle near Mills Road, don’t be surprised if the ERU is the same as that of someone who owns a bigger home if the city ultimately decided to create a stormwater utility.
“To me this is like our trash bill,” Gillock said, “There is a uniform rate. This is a minimal charge. We don’t charge one guy $17 a month and one guy $18 a month because he has more trash. I think it would difficult to establish ERUs for every structure.”
Council member Terrence Keenan told GPD and Bramhall that he was looking for a more exact way to bill. That’s in part because Keenan appears to be the voice of the myriad of housing developments that have sprung up in the city in recent years and have their own retention ponds. Those ponds, in theory, provide a safe haven for stormwater, and thus the newer homes aren’t creating the runoff that is a cause of the flooding.
“Council doesn’t want a solution that’s not perceived by the residents as being fair. It will be perceived as unfair when it’s not detailed enough,” Keenan said.
If council approves the study, it will take between six and 12 months to complete, David J. Martin of GPD said.