City considers stormwater add-on for bills

Staff Written News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor 

The City of Madison is considering adding stormwater fees to water utility bills in order to generate more revenue to improve and maintain stormwater infrastructure. A “conservative projection” estimates such fees could generate about $330,000 annually for the City of Madison. 

The Madison Mayor and City Council listened to a presentation by Courtney Reich with the GMC Network, one of the Southeast’s largest privately-held architecture and engineering firms, on implementing a stormwater management program. 

Stormwater is the run-off after the rain from impervious surfaces, like driveways, parking lots, and sidewalks into drainage systems. 

“You have three piping systems in the ground, but you are only charging for two of them,” said Reich, noting citizens are charged for water and sewage but not for stormwater. 

According to Reich, stormwater infrastructure is among the most neglected in the country. 

“We don’t do a good job in this country already of investing in our infrastructure,” she said to the council on Friday, May 31 at the monthly work session. 

“We are doing an even worse job investing in this particular infrastructure.” According to Reich, older cities like Madison, have an especially imperative need to update and maintain stormwater service due to aging systems. 

Reich outlined a general plan for designing a stormwater management plan which identifies the city’s goals and responsibilities for stormwater–for both current maintenance and upkeep and future capital project to improve stormwater services. 

Reich also noted the need to craft a fee structure that work best for the city, either a flat free for all residential properties, a tiered fee structure based on house sizes, or an individualized structure in which every property incurs a fee based on the amount  of its impervious surfaces. 

Commercial and Industrial properties would incur fees based on their impervious surface footprint. 

According to Reich, the average cost for residential homeowners would be about $4-$5 per month. 

“A vital component is public education to let the community understand why you are implementing this fee and what you will do with the revenues generated to maintain and improve the stormwater system,” said Reich.  

Reich argued that adopting a stormwater utility system would be a fairer system since the current costs are budgeted into the city’s general fund budget, which is largely funded through property taxes.

 “We think this is a more equitable way to charge for stormwater,” said Reich. “It’s property tax based now. It doesn’t really bear out a lot of the  relationship between how you are benefiting from the program or impacting the program…Tax-exempt properties are not contributing and sometimes they have the most stormwater run-off into the drainage systems.” 

The council will consider Reich’s proposal before deciding whether or not to move forward with implementing fees to city water customers for stormwater. 

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