essence, was the message that Andy Reese, a vice president of
A.M.E.C., an international consulting firm which has helped
establish several of the utilities around the nation, brought to
an all-day seminar sponsored by the state Department of Natural
Resources & Environmental Control.
has "marvelous legislation" already in place allowing the
department, counties or municipalities to move ahead quickly, he
said. "The day you set up a utility, you're going to have a
firehose of money coming in. ... You'd better have contacts in
place the day the first billing goes out."
were decided to charge property owners a basic fee of $4 to $5 a
month -- which he said has been determined to be the range that
people are willing to accept -- it would generate roughly
between $18 million and $22 million for a New Castle county
utility. One with statewide jurisdiction, he estimated, would
take in $29 million to $38 million. He cautioned that those are
"very rough estimates."
paying for drainage-related activity with general tax revenue,
going the fee route prevents the wide swings in available
revenue during different budget years. After a major flood,
public interest is high and public officials are responsive.
"But that tends to drop off considerable when the flood goes
away," he said.
he said, should be used to finance operations and be set high
enough at the outset to generate sufficient revenue to cover the
level of services the utility has decided to provide. However,
that money can be leveraged, through grants from public and
private sources, to finance capital projects and a variety of
one-time 'extras', he said.
based on the amount of impervious surface on a property. Scott
Bryant, who manages a utility for the water resources department
in Greensboro, N.C., said that city has used state-of-the-art
digital mapping technology to separate properties into three
tiers with rates ranging from $1.70 a month for those generating
little runoff to $3.90 a month for those with such features as
large parking lots. A typical middle-class single-family
residential property is charged $2.90.
Reese explained, are best established on the basis of lot size.
The basic rate is applied to a typical residential property in a
community and scaled up from there. A shopping center, for
instance, might be charged the equivalent of 40 times what the
owner of a typical residence pays.
are compulsory and collected by a government agency with taxing
authority, either as part of its tax billing or in a separate
billing. New Castle County includes school district and
crossing-guard taxes in its September tax billing and bills
sewer fees separately in February.
stormwater management utility would be a semiautonomous agency
which would assume responsibility for a full range of
drainage-related activities now spread over several state and
local agencies. In Delaware, unlike in some large states, Reese
claimed, all those functions could easily be brought "under the
umbrella" of a single utility.
Delaforum previously reported, the natural resources department
floated the idea before a recent meeting of New Castle County
Council's special services committee. The county Special
Services Department is its public works agency. At that meeting, Frank
Piorko, manager of the natural resources department's sediment
and stormwater program, said the department is not necessarily
advocating the utilities. But the all-day seminar on Nov. 8
amounted to a strong pitch in that direction.
said the resources that Greensboro has been able to bring to
bear on drainage-related problems "has gone up double or triple
since we've had [a utility]." The money, he said, is used for
everything from keeping storm drains clear and maintaining
drainage ponds to noticeably improving the quality of drinking
said that in the nine years since setting up a utility in
Charlotte, N.C., the number of flooding complaints had dropped
from 8,000 a year to none last year.
speaker referred to flood-damage mitigation, which would appear
to be the major impetus for New Castle County to consider
establishing a stormwater management utility. The joint
county-state buyout of properties in Glenville wrecked by the
September, 2003, storms has sparked demands from other
communities for like treatment.
Councilman William Tansey, who chairs the special services
committee and who attended the seminar, said that he thinks the
idea of working through a utility is worth further study, but he
cautioned that "it's certainly not a panacea." The most-likely
model, he said, would be a statewide utility.
said there is no 'standard' model for a utility -- either in the
way it is organized or the scope of its functions. His revenue
estimates, he said, would finance a 'moderate' program.
Bulova, a senior planner with A.M.E.C., said the approach his
firm follows is to conduct a preliminary 'does it make sense'
study among community leaders, developers and representatives of
other interests considered most directly affected to determine
if enough support can be generated to justify paying for a
full-scale feasibility study. If there is sufficient enthusiasm
during the preliminary stage, the feasibility study can be
skipped, he said.
citizens group between yourself and every hard decision you must
make," he advised. "Eighteen months is a comfortable schedule"
for moving from an initial public presentation, through a
feasibility study to completing the necessary organizational
steps, he said.
acknowledged during his generally upbeat presentation that there
is likely to be opposition to establishing a stormwater
management utility. Principal objectors are tax-exempt
organizations, which would not be exempt from paying a utility
can't exempt anyone. That would be discriminatory and wouldn't
hold up [in court]," he said. But, he added, it is possible to
allow partial credits against the fees. They would go to such as
property owners in a neighborhood in which a community
association maintains the drainage pond or a commercial property
with storm-runoff mitigation features. Even a school could
qualify by teaching water conservation.
said he has personally been involved in setting up utilities in
five states. "They all went to court -- and they all won," he
a stormwater utility should be expected to start life by
undertaking several activities, it should be established with
the intention of expanding from a manageable initial load, he
said. "You have to be careful to control expectations.
Stormwater has been ignored forever and you're not going to
change everything that needs changing right away."