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COL Unfunded mandate prompted fees

By Barbara Huberty

The Rochester Public Works Department would like to take this opportunity to provide answers about its storm water management program, some of which were raised by Ted Clikeman in his Feb. 8 letter to the editor.

Additional information can be found on the city's storm water web site: www.rochestermn.us/stormwater.

All of Rochester's residents, visitors, and businesses benefit from having clean water. When proper storm water management measures are not used, storm water will travel across hard surfaces and collect dirt, debris, and chemicals that are then carried directly to our lakes, streams and rivers without treatment.

The federal Clean Water Act and the state storm water permit requirements were adopted with the goal of improving and protecting the quality of our surface water. In our local geologic setting, it does not take long for surface water to become the ground water that we drink, so it is especially important to humans that our surface water is clean.

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Aquatic plants and animals prefer a clean environment, too!

The city council annually reviews and adopts the storm water utility operational and capital improvement budgets. The expenditures are managed by the Public Works Department, which is responsible for implementing the city's Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Permit. This citywide storm water permit, new to the city in March 2003, is issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. It is an unfunded mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency necessitated by the federal Clean Water Act.

The city of Rochester started collecting storm water utility fees from owners of residential and non-residential property in January 2004. The fee structure was based on the amount of hard surface present on a piece of property because it determines the amount, rate and quality of runoff.

A total of $3,031,121 was collected in 2004. Three prior sources of revenue were transferred to the storm water utility fund. Storm water management plan area charges totaling $714,125 were paid by developers based on the projected amount of impervious surface in new developments. Developers also paid $51,396 in grading plan check fees and grading permit fees to process their grading plans and permits. Finally, interest and investment earnings on fund balances generated $44,713 in 2004.

These revenue streams are classified as fees because their rates are based on the amount of service provided. General fund revenues, including local property taxes and sales taxes, do not support storm water utility program functions.

Taxes are an inadequate, inequitable, and unstable means of funding storm water management services. All storm water utility revenue sources go into a dedicated fund that must be used for the storm water management activities specified by the Storm Water Utility Ordinance. The money does not go into the general fund and cannot be used for anything other than the storm water management activities and projects.

In 2004, $3,068,280 was spent on a variety of storm water management activities. Additional money was also encumbered for approved capital improvement projects that are under way, but not yet completed. Storm water utility funds are used to inspect and maintain our existing storm water management system, which includes nearly 140 public storm water ponds, 230 miles of storm sewer pipe, 800 miles of road ditches, 7,400 storm drains, 5,400 storm sewer manholes, and 800 outfalls. The city also has to insure that over 100 private storm water ponds are also properly maintained.

Additional storm water management activities include: addressing historical drainage problems (such as stabilizing eroded drainage ways); sweeping 2,600 lane miles of streets per year; constructing retention and drainage systems for water quantity and quality control; reviewing and approving grading and drainage plans for new development; and inspecting erosion and sediment control practices on construction sites.

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The storm water permit also requires that the city conduct public education and participation programs; develop ordinances and storm water management plans; detect and eliminate prohibited discharges; insure good housekeeping for city operations; and respond to citizen inquiries, violations reports and complaints. Finally, the city must complete billing, record keeping, database development, and reporting activities to administer the program.

As long as we continue to receive precipitation, we must manage storm water.

The federal and state water protection regulations, enforced in part by the city, have increased the cost for new development projects. New best management practices that protect water quality must now be implemented with each new development to control storm water discharging from that property both during and after construction.

Unless Congress repeals the federal Clean Water Act, the city will be obligated to meet the terms of the state storm water permit forever. In fact, additional permit requirements will soon be added that will require the city to address Minnesota's non-degradation rules and federal total maximum daily load regulations.

Barbara Huberty is Environmental and Regulatory Affairs Coordinator for the Rochester Public Works Department.

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