Thursday, January 31, 2008

Metro might make homeowners pay for stormwater control

By MICHAEL CASS • Staff Writer(Tennessean) • January 31, 2008 Read Comments(2)Recommend Print this page E-mail this article Share this article: Facebook Digg Reddit Newsvine What’s this? Metro property owners should pay a monthly user fee to help the city catch up on 2,000 stormwater projects and cut down on flooding across town, a city consultant recommends in a report due out Friday. For most single-family homes, the fee would be $4.98 a month, based on the size of surfaces like rooftops and driveways that don’t absorb rain. Water bills might be divided into separate water, sewer and stormwater lines. But before they sign off, some frustrated officials want to make sure the money really would ensure that Metro starts clearing out clogged ditches, tackling erosion and repairing broken walls around town. “If I’m going to vote for a water fee increase, they need to show me evidence that they’re going to address the issues in my district,” Councilman Greg Adkins, who represents the Crieve Hall area, said Thursday. “People keep calling and calling and calling. I want to make sure my constituents are served.” Like a 2001 study said, the new report says Metro needs a dedicated funding source to pay for a stormwater program that isn’t coming close to meeting pent-up demand. The program’s annual budget is about $12 million, but it needs $25.8 million for both operations and capital projects, consultant Andy Reese of AMEC Earth and Energy concludes. At that rate, it would take eight years to catch up on the backlog of complaints and other projects. Those needs would cost $85 million to fix today, but the list will grow and maintenance will be required, said Councilwoman Emily Evans, who represents Belle Meade and West Meade. Metro Water Services also would add some employees to its 91-person Stormwater Division staff, Evans said. The fee change would correct inequities in the stormwater program, she said. Some property owners produce little stormwater but are required to pay water and sewer rates. Others — like parking lot owners — produce a lot of runoff water but pay nothing because they don’t use water or sewers. But Evans said the study is only a starting point for discussion by council members, Mayor Karl Dean’s administration, Metro residents and other groups, potentially leading to a new fee starting with the next budget year on July 1. “We’re not married to anything,” Evans said. Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling called the recommendation “an idea that has some merit.” “But it’s going to need a lot of study,” he said. Frustrations mount Garrett Dawson, a musician and songwriter who lives in Crieve Hall, said he’s tired of seeing the “war zone” in his back yard, where stormwater backing up in a utility and drainage easement has wiped out the soil under the roots of his trees. If the water ever came over a bank below his lot, “it would be a straight shot into my garage,” Dawson said. After years of struggling to get Metro to fix the problem, Dawson said he’d be willing to pay a monthly stormwater fee. “It’s cheaper than a new carpet,” he said. “It’s cheaper than new furniture. It’s cheaper than the lawsuits the city’s going to get hit with eventually. In the long run, it’s a bargain.” Adkins said he’s told Metro Water Services, which took over the stormwater program from Public Works in 2002, about Dawson’s problem several times. But the department rates requests at A, B and C priority levels and lags on the B or C requests, he said. Dawson said his problem received a C rating. “Nothing ever happens, unless it’s catastrophic,” second-term councilman Adkins said, adding that the consultant’s report didn’t address enough of the lower-priority concerns. “This has given me more headaches than any other issue in my area.” Evans said the federal Environmental Protection Agency, concerned about water quality, is pressing Metro for improvements. For the past 15 years, state law has allowed cities to collect stormwater user fees to help themselves improve water quality, and Franklin, Murfreesboro, Chattanooga and Memphis have done so, she said. “If we don’t do it this way, the EPA may fine us,” Evans added. “That money’s going to Washington, D.C. We might as well flush it down the toilet.” At the same time, Metro hasn’t raised water rates since 1996, and sewer rates were reduced in 1999 and haven’t been touched since, Evans said. Metro isn’t allowed to use property tax revenues to pay for water and sewer services, which have to support themselves financially. Dawson said he’s felt the impact of that shortfall in funding as he’s asked for help with his easement. “They keep telling me there’s no money,” he said. But Metro did do one thing for Dawson. He said the city reduced its most recent assessment of his property’s value after he showed assessors photographs of the flooding in his yard. “I can’t sell my house,” he said. “The value has decreased because of the city.”

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