Stormwater fee #039;fix#039; would be step back

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Treading water works well when you are trying to keep your head dry but does little to help you swim away from sharks.

This analogy can be applied to a proposal that to repeal the recently enacted Ironton stormwater utility fee and replace it with a much-reduced version that partially addresses immediate concerns but does not look toward the future.

For the better part of a year, the city engineering department has worked to prepare an adequate fee structure for the Environmental Protection Agency's mandated stormwater regulations and combined sewer overflow plan. The city estimates approximately $1 million will be needed to draft the plan and the EPA projection is that as much as $20 million will be needed over the next 20 years to implement the plan.

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The current fee was put on bills this month. It charges all residents $14.55 per month and will eventually charge businesses that same amount per 3,000 square feet of impermeable surface.

The EPA has been lenient and already granted the city extensions for drafting a plan, something that cannot be done without some revenue in place. Though the exact cost of implementation is unknown, the city will almost certainly face substantial costs to bring the 100-year-old system up to regulations.

To change the fee structure now would fail to address the big picture. This type of short-sighted approach has helped put the city in this situation to in the first place. This plan would have been more acceptable three years ago.

While we commend the two councilmen for trying to alleviate a definite burden on the residents and businesses, we feel that the move would just delay the inevitable.

The new proposal would replace the fee with a $4 per parcel system that would only charge one fee for adjacent parcels.

So, a property owner of less than a half-acre would pay the same as a company such as Liebert, which owns nearly 10 acres. That doesn't seem fair.

Yes, this proposal would generate the needed money to pay for creating a plan - a process that will only take 18 months - but the $4 per month fee would require the plan to be paid for over the next five years with very little left for implementation. So what happens after that 18 months and the time comes to take action? Council would likely have to adopt another fee and wait for money to start rolling in.

Maybe some grants are out there but maybe they are not. To continue to hope and pray grants will come seems tantamount to burying your head in the sand.

The city must continue to look for other funding options, but it is crucial to keep an adequate system in place. If in 18 months, the study determines that the city only needs $4 per month instead of $14, council can quickly make the change and reduce it.

Ironton must learn to swim clear of danger. If not, the city will most certainly sink.