Voters To Decide Fate Of Storm Water Utility On Tuesday

By Doug Carder
Osawatomie voters will decide whether or not to establish a storm water utility to help pay for upgrades to the city’s storm water system and for a $400,000 levee certification process.
The approval or disapproval of the utility, which will appear on the ballot as Charter Ordinance No. 13, will be decided by a simple majority vote.
The levee system, a vital cog in the city’s storm water defense, is being put through the certification progress because of the July 2007 flood that forced Pottawatomie Creek to top the levee and spill into town – costing the city more than $1 million in flood damages.
The certification process is federally mandated but not federally funded, City Manager Bret Glendening has told the council.
City officials acknowledge that establishing a storm water utility would not prevent another flood. But the utility could provide money to soften the blow by deepening the storm water holding ponds, rebuilding outtake lines in the levee system and repairing curbs and guttering.
“Curbs and gutters are the first line of defense to keep water out of yards,” Glendening told the council in July.
Mayor Phil Dudley also has pointed out that money generated through the storm water utility could be used to provide matching funds for Community Development Block Grants and other monies available to small cities for infrastructure improvements.
In his column last week, Dudley said likely sources to fund the $400,000 levee certification process could include property taxes, surcharges, sales tax or special assessments on all real estate in the community. The city has estimated that the storm water utility fee would generate $60,000 to $80,000 which could help pay for levee certification.
Dudley said other federal requirements likely are coming down the pike to address storm water systems.
“Large communities have been making modifications to their storm sewer systems for years under (Environmental Protection Agency) requirements, and the EPA is in the initial stages of preparing to move to the next sized communities,” which he said would include Osawatomie.
Councilman Ted Hunter has said these EPA mandates would cover all water use that is discharged into a stream, which includes storm water.
“A storm water utility needs to be in place to help address these mandates when they are imposed,” Hunter said.
Hunter has said the proposed utility would spread the cost fairly among all property holders, including residential, commercial, schools, churches, nonprofits and other organizations that own property within the city.
Not all council members are in favor of this utility.
Councilman John Farley has spoke out against the proposed utility in council meetings and in a recent letter to the editor.
“First, we must be clear that Ordinance 13 is not about flood protection. It is not at all a device to keep waters from breaching our levees,” Farley wrote in his letter. “It is about rainwater, and it will result in our citizens, businesses and churches – in fact all property holders – funding a utility whose purpose is poorly defined and for a dollar amount that is unknown.”
Farley said the funding mechanism for this utility is unclear, because the original proposal called for a flat fee. He said an engineering firm had noted successful legal challenges to “flat fees” at a previous council meeting.
Instead of a flat fee, city staff plans to measure the size of each property, so a fee structure can be based on the size of each piece of real estate, rather than based on a flat fee, through a process called Equivalent Residential Units.
In his city manager’s report at the Oct. 14 meeting, Glendening said individual residential properties and commercial properties continue to be measured, and the ERU process continues to be refined. He said it’s hopeful that by Election Day all the data will be compiled.
But he said the ERU range is relatively certain, and any specific commercial property owners who wish to know what their total estimated ERU is can obtain that information at City Hall.
Farley and some residents have expressed concern about what the utility fees will actually be and what they will pay for.
“If folks are going to be asked to scrimp and save to pay this new utility, shouldn’t they at least know what they are getting? Does anyone know? Are there other options? Can the city re-prioritize its budget to accomplish improvements? I don’t usually pay for something if I don’t know what I’m getting,” Farley wrote in his letter to the editor.
Glendening has said the first priority of the storm water utility-generated fees is to pay for levee certification. A list of other priority projects, like deepening the water holding ponds inside the levees, would be established to shore up the city’s storm water system.
The council tried to establish the storm water utility in December 2008. A protest petition gathered enough signatures to put the proposed utility before voters last year, and it went down to defeat by roughly a 2 to 1 margin.
This time, the council decided to take the issue straight to the voters.
Councilwoman Karen LaDuex said a lot of misinformation was circulated about the intent of the storm water utility fee, and that petitioners used scare tactics to ensure it was defeated.
“There were insidious claims that we would raise the (storm water utility) rate to three digits,” LaDuex said. “That’s ridiculous.”

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Posted by Jeff on Oct 28 2010. Filed under News and Updates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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