Mayor opposes utility fee structureThe establishment of a stormwater utility for the city of Hudson was delayed after Mayor Alan Burchill objected to the proposed fee structure for the utility at a Dec. 19 meeting of the City Council’s Finance Committee.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
The establishment of a stormwater utility for the city of Hudson was delayed after Mayor Alan Burchill objected to the proposed fee structure for the utility at a Dec. 19 meeting of the City Council’s Finance Committee.
Burchill, who chairs the committee, said the rates for business, institutional and industrial properties were too high in the plan presented by Finance Officer Neil Soltis.
After considerable discussion, committee members Lori Bernard, Randy Morrissette and Rich Vanselow voted to have Soltis draft an alternate fee structure.
Burchill argued that the runoff from streets in residential neighborhoods should be taken into consideration in establishing rates.
Soltis presented a fee structure based on the amount of impervious surface on properties.
One- and two-family dwellings would be considered one residential equivalency unit (REU) and be charged $7.50 per quarter, or $30 per year, under the plan.
An REU was based on 2,890 square feet of impervious area, which a 2008 Bonestroo engineering study found to be typical for one-family homes in Hudson.
Soltis proposed charging the owners of multi-family residences with more than two units one-half REU ($3.75) per unit per quarter, or $15 per unit annually.
He proposed a seven-level fee structure for non-residential properties, based on a property’s square footage of impervious surface area.
The proposed quarterly fees were:
Soltis reported that the fees would generate a projected $315,840 annually for repairs and storm sewer improvement projects.
He provided material showing 12 properties in the top tier of non-residential properties. The owners of those properties would pay $3,000 annually in stormwater fees.
A projected 56 properties are in the second-to-top tier. They would be charged $900 a year in stormwater fees.
Soltis reported that the city has 4,500 one- and two-family residences, which would generate $135,000 annually for the stormwater utility at the proposed rate of $7.50 per quarter ($30 annually).
Mayor Burchill offered a counter proposal that would boost the charge for one- and two-family residences to $10 per quarter ($40 annually).
He proposed reducing the top rate for large commercial and institutional properties to $150 per year and charging smaller businesses $100 per year. Owners of apartment buildings would pay $80 a year under the mayor’s proposal.
Burchill said his fee structure would produce $371,000 annually for stormwater utility, more than the one proposed by Soltis.
“I think the single-family homes are where we generate the greatest use (of the storm sewer system),” the mayor said in support of increasing the one- and two-family residential fee.
He said Soltis’ plan didn’t take into account streets in residential neighborhoods, which he said are a major contributor to stormwater runoff.
It’s the storm sewers in older neighborhoods, where some homes are 100 years old, that need the most work, Burchill added.
He also felt it was unfair to charge retail stores more for large parking lots when city regulations require them to put in a given number of spaces based on the square footage of the building.
“I think that’s adverse to business,” he said.
In addition, Burchill pointed out that churches and schools would be required to pay stormwater fees.
“Do you want to charge St. Pat’s?” he asked at one point.
The mayor also wanted to know who would administer the stormwater utility and determine how much impervious surface non-residential properties have.
“Are we going to hire someone to administer this?” he asked.
Committee members comment
Alderperson Rich Vanselow responded with a question of his own. He asked if the city hadn’t just completed a revaluation of all property which included records of the square footage of buildings.
Soltis indicated that the city does have property records that would be helpful in determining the appropriate rate tier for non-residential properties.
He said the initial set-up would be the most time-consuming, and after that, the billing would be routine. The stormwater fees would be added to regular quarterly water and sanitary sewer bills.
Alderperson Randy Morrissette said the stormwater utility would be under the direction of the public works and parks director.
Vanselow and Morrissette had misgivings about Burchill’s proposal.
Vanselow said he was comfortable with basing fees on the square footage of impervious surfaces, which seemed like an equitable approach to him.
He indicated that he didn’t like the idea of charging $10 more a year for single-family homes than what Soltis had proposed.
“I don’t like that we are raising fees already,” he said.
Morrissette agreed with Vanselow on the point.
Morrissette said homeowners would wonder why they were paying close to the same fee that the Target store was paying.
“All I’m asking is that we have some objective measurement that I can explain to people,” Vanselow said.
He said another option would be to take the money for maintaining storm sewers out of the general fund. The council would then have to reprioritize city spending, he said.
He added that storm sewer maintenance hasn’t been a high enough priority for the city in the past to avoid emergency repairs.
City Council President Lori Bernard suggested that Soltis come up with an alternative funding mechanism, and that the committee and City Council then choose between the two plans.
Soltis said there are other methods — such as flat fees or fees based on zoning — that other municipalities use.
City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick cautioned that any funding method has to be based on some objective measurement. Wisconsin municipalities typically base fees on impervious surface area, she said.
A motion to consider an alternate funding method carried on a voice vote without opposition.
The City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance establishing the stormwater utility at its Dec. 5 meeting.
Soltis was asked to prepare a rate schedule for the utility to be approved at the same time that final approval is given to establishing the utility.
That will now happen at a later date.