Storm Water Article

STORM WATER UTILITY

 

Economic Development reduces the amount of land surface available for storm water to seep naturally into the ground.  Development of a parcel creates a higher rate of storm water runoff from rooftops, driveways, streets, parking lots, etc.  Even agricultural land causes more runoff than what a naturally occurring grassy field or forested area would produce.  As more intense development occurs and runoff increases, the negative impact upon surface waters in terms of quantity and quality increases.  The cost of constructing, operating, and maintaining a fully functional storm water system to handle the additional runoff is also increasing.  The City of Park Rapids currently maintains approximately nine miles of mainline storm water pipes.  As the system continues to expand and older pipes age, the burden of using the City’s general fund to keep up with ongoing maintenance becomes unrealistic.   

 

For this reason, governments have intervened to promote water quality and to manage flooding. Such intervention is through a body of law that arises out of the various federal Clean Water Acts and the supporting regulations arising from these laws. Plainly stated, storm water runoff washes pollutants off into surface waters and contributes to flooding problems.  The law says we must act to protect our surface waters.  So, the State of Minnesota, responding to the Clean Water Acts, passed authorizing legislation for local governments to implement a storm water utility (Minnesota 444.075).   Many have done so as evidenced by a Minnesota Cities Storm water Coalition survey of 142 cities, 100 cities had implemented a storm water utility.

 

The decision by the City Council to implement a storm water utility did not come easily.  In fact, the Council began considering this matter as far back as 2003.  No one argues that the effort to control storm water runoff is a bad thing.  It is the cost, or, more directly, how to raise the funding to pay for the storm water runoff control measures that is difficult.   The City has few avenues (levy, fees, and assessments are the primary sources; a sales tax is not possible under current state law) available to it for raising funds.    And tax payers are feeling the burden of so many taxes now imposed by federal, state and local governments.

 

A storm water utility is considered equitable based on the premise that “contributors pay”. The fee is directly related to the amount of runoff produced by a developed parcel.  The charges are based on a scientifically determined runoff factor which takes local soil conditions and intensity of specific uses into consideration.    The fee is based on the size and the intensity of the use of the parcel, not the value of the parcel.  Properties that are exempt from property taxes (schools, churches, etc.), will now be contributing to the operating costs that are normally funded through the general levy. 

 

With the storm water utility, the City will use the funds to build storm water sewers and maintain the existing ones.  Some of the funds may go toward equipment such a street sweeper and toward the salaries of equipment operators.  The vision is to help offset the cost of new storm sewer construction that will occur over the next several years.  In this manner, assessments upon individually benefited parcels should be less than what such assessments have been in the past. Although assessments are a useful tool for paying for the storm water facilities upfront, they do not address the ongoing burden of maintaining the systems as they age.  It’s a lot like buying a car; we all know that even after it’s paid for, there are still costs associated with keeping it running at a peak level. 

 

A storm water utility is a long term investment in our community to create a dependable and dedicated funding source for an ever expanding and aging storm water system.  It is a self-financing mechanism that does not compete with other government entities for general revenues.  The funding is easily predicted and therefore makes financial planning easier and improves the quality of water and minimizes the threat of overland flooding throughout the city.   

 

All benefit from a storm water utility.