a gubernatorial taskforce is preparing recommendations about how
best to manage surface drainage, city government has decided
that a utility is the way to go. Its plan has been crafted down
to deciding what the initial fees will be and how to apportion
situations, however, are different. The taskforce was convened
in response to flooding in several places in New Castle County
during heavy rainstorms in Septembers of 2003 and 2004.
Wilmington is faced with having to pay for federal- and
state-mandated measures to reduce and eventually eliminate
discharge from its combined sanitary and storm sewer system into
the Delaware River of untreated overflow when heavy rain
inundates the system.
both cases, however, the cause of the trouble is the same --
development which has resulted in an expanse of impervious
surfaces. Water which lands there cannot be absorbed into the
ground and flows into the sewers.
seeking a new source of revenue to pay for maintenance and
improvement of its system, Wilmington officials concluded that
the present water-sewer rate system is both inadequate and
unbalanced. The plan now is to correct the latter condition
first and then deal with the former.
Srinivasin, commissioner of public works, explained that the
approach is to add a third component, drainage, to the rate that
city residents and businesses pay for water and sewer service.
cost of managing drainage is [now] funded by the water-sewer
fee, which has nothing to do with runoff," he said. As a result,
"those who contribute the most to stormwater runoff pay the
& Veatch, the engineering consulting firm hired to help devise
the utility, found that the city's current annual wastewater
cost is $9,095,000. Of that, $4,635,000 is attributable to
drainage. To take an extreme situation, the owner of a large
parking lot which buys very little water does not pay any fee
but that property obviously dumps a lot of water into the sewer.
better apportion the fee -- which will continue be a single
combined assessment due quarterly -- the utility will use the
approach which has become the standard around the nation. The
drainage component will be levied on the basis of 'equivalent
runoff units'. A unit is calculated on the estimated amount of
runoff from the most common least impervious properties. In
Wilmington's case that is a residential property less than a
tenth of an acre in size, which describes more than 90% of all
rate structure defines three kinds of properties -- residential,
nonresidential and properties not connected to the sanitary
sewer system. Within each type, there are seven property
classes, based on size. The larger the property the more
'equivalent runoff units' for which it will be charged.
Initial charge for each unit will be $77.43 a year.
Wilmington has 21,000 residential and 3,000 business or
make the change more compatible, it was decided to keep it
revenue neutral; that is not take in more money from the
three-component fee than the present two-component fee yields.
To do that, the sewer component of the combined fee will be cut
typical residential property with average water consumption will
end up paying somewhat less than at present; larger commercial
properties will, in most cases, have to pay considerable more
Srinivasin acknowledged that the rate is set arbitrarily, but
said it is fair. "We're doing this because we believe there is a
fundamental problem of equity," he said.
outside the city, such as southwestern Brandywine Hundred, which
buy Wilmington water will continue to pay just the water
component. Owners there pay separately for New Castle County
sewer service and will likely end up with some kind of drainage
fee, depending upon what the state taskforce recommends and the
General Assembly and County Council do.
Properties in the city that are owned by public agencies and
nonprofit organizations will have to pay the fee, just as they
do now for water and storm service.
William Montgomery, the second-ranking official in the city
administration, indicated there is an 'other shoe' element
involved. Although it will start off generating revenue at the
present level, the idea behind a stormwater utility is that it
provide a sustained revenue stream able to keep pace with the
cost of stormwateer management.
"Obviously these [initial] rates will have to be raised in the
future," Montgomery said. "We have to get something in place
first and then improve it." He did not indicate how long revenue
neutrality is likely to last.
other hand, Srinivasin said it is likely that, in the future,
credits will be offered to property owners who voluntarily
undertake measures to control runoff.
Montgomery acknowledged that city government will likely tap
into the water-sewer-drainage fund, as it does now into the
water-sewer fund, for other purposes. "It's not unusual for a
city to take some 'profit' [from selling water] to offset other
costs. ... That's all right as long as those transfers are set
at a reasonable level. We're not looking for that to carry the
rest [of city spending]," he said. The current level is about $1
million a year. It ran as high as $6 million during Mayor James
Sills's previous administration, he said.
"Wilmington is required to do certain things that will cost
money," Srinivasin said. If nothing else, he added, federal
anti-pollution standards will get more stringent.
are about 1,000 stormwater utilities of various kinds around the
nation. Unlike what is considered the standard form, a separate
autonomous entity, Wilmington's will be a unit of the Department
of Public Works.