City council reluctantly passes stormwater fee

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 14, 2005

Even the councilmen who voted for the stormwater fee were against it.

Nonetheless, Ironton City Council adopted Thursday a monthly fee that will cost residential property owners an extra $14.55 per month and some businesses that own a lot of property quite a bit more.

The new stormwater fee will fund the Environmental Protection Agency’s mandated Combined Sewer Overflow plan and the related program designed to maintain and improve the city’s stormwater system. The monthly fee will be added to resident's water bills and will begin to be assessed in mid-June, whether council agrees with it or not.

Email newsletter signup

"It is going to be done, unless I am missing something. The plan and the implementation is going to happen, that is not an issue," Council chairman Jim Tordiff said as he explained that the city's hands are tied and that if a plan is not in place the EPA could make the fee far more expensive.

"The amount of input we have depends on if we implement a fee or let the EPA come in and do it."

The council was split on the issue and debated several options during the 3-hour meeting but the ultimate consensus was that the city was up against a wall.

"I don't think we have any other choice at this point," Councilman Richard Price said.

The measure passed 4-2 with Tordiff, Jesse Roberts, Richard Price and Bill Nenni supporting it. Councilmen Chuck O'Leary and Bob Isaac voted against it. Brent Pyles was absent due to a death in the family.

The group also decided to have the mayor look into getting an outside firm to analyze the CSO plan for ways to cut costs and asked the city attorney to look into the legality of the government handing out unfunded mandates.

The goal of the CSO and stormwater plan is to determine the volume of pollutants that go into the Ohio River and to minimize untreated discharges.

Creating the CSO plan by the January 2006 deadline will cost the city approximately $900,000. Actually implementing the plan and making extensive changes in the stormwater and sewer system could cost the city $20 million over the next 20 years. The fee could generate as much as $1.25 million a year but that takes into account some monies that will not be collected.

Residential property owners will pay a flat fee of $14.55 per month based on a system that estimates residential households include 3,000 square feet of runoff surface - roof, parking lot, blacktop. Businesses will be assessed $14.55 for every 3,000 feet the property includes, so many will have to pay thousands each month, at least initially.

"We are all sharing the burden of this federal mandate," Mayor John Elam said. "We are doing our best to minimize the financial impact on the residents and the businesses. We will assist people to find alternative ways to reduce stormwater runoff."

City engineer Phil Biggs said that the city will look at ways to evaluate property more thoroughly on an individual basis by using an appeal board and working with businesses to implement methods that would reduce runoff.

"This is happening everywhere in the United States. There is no place to run and hide," Biggs said. "We are all in the same boat."

Ironton has three types of sewer lines - storm sewer lines that discharge directly to the river, sanitary sewer lines that go to the treatment plant and combination sanitary waste/stormwater drains. Keeping the two flows separate is the problem and often results in untreated waste water going into the river.

A secondary part of the problem is that the city is not doing all the things it is already required to do under the EPA wastewater permits. Coming into compliance is an expensive proposition.

Ironton’s fee is more expensive because of the poor condition of the 53-miles of sewer system, the low rates on water and sewer services, the type of systems and lack of preparation over the years, Biggs said.

In addition to paying to draft the plan, funds generated from this fee will be used to create a storm water department that will be staffed by at least four people, purchase new equipment, map the city’s sewer system, replace and repair the systems and more.

Much like several business owners in attendance, Councilman Isaac opposed the fee.

"I am afraid if we pass this ordinance that it will be disastrous to Ironton," he said. "We have several businesses and industry in town that are marginal that may pack up and leave town."

The stormwater fee wasn't only fee being debated though. Tordiff emphasized the need for some sort of municipal fee just to help the city move stay afloat. Council plans to put some form of a fee on the ballot in November.

A workshop to focus on the city's financial problems will be at 6 p.m. Monday.