Stormwater fee mulled over
Every Rochester property owner would pay
By Lenora Chu
When Donald Beck visited Rochester city officials Thursday and discovered his church could be charged $390 a month in new stormwater fees, his eyebrows lifted.
"That's almost $5,000 a year," said Beck, a deacon and board member at First Assembly of God Church. "That's a lot for some new tax, some utility fee, to come up with."
On Thursday afternoon, city officials held an open house at Mayo Civic Center to answer questions about the proposed stormwater fee, on which the Rochester City Council will rule during its next two meetings.
This sliding-scale, mandatory stormwater fee would be added to the public-utility bills of every business, nonprofit organization and resident that owns property in the city. It's been proposed as a way to fund city compliance with new federal and state regulations that require cities to protect and improve water quality on top of simply draining stormwater away from populated areas.
"This is new activities, new costs," said Barb Huberty, the city's environmental coordinator. "The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) knows stormwater quality will not improve without changes in behavior."
The city's operating budget traditionally includes $1 million for stormwater management, according to Huberty, but because of budget cuts, that money will no longer be available. The city projects annual stormwater system construction and maintenance costs under the new regulations to be approximately $3.5 million.
For Rochester Community and Technical College, which owns and leases land to other entities at University Center Rochester, the monthly fee is estimated to be $3,600.
"It's going to come out of our general operating funds," said Marilyn Hansmann, RCTC's chief financial officer. "It's a total community benefit, but it's just hard when our budget is being cut by the state. We just raised tuition 15 percent."
Huberty said her office has received many inquiries but that the reaction to the proposed fees vary. Since churches are traditionally exempt from property taxes, this new fee is particularly jolting, she said.
"The churches are in sticker-shock," Huberty said. "They've enjoyed the benefit (of stormwater management) but never had to know the cost of it. But businesses in Rochester are totally unsurprised because this is how other cities do it, and they knew it would come to Rochester sooner or later."
The fees for nonresidential properties are calculated using factors such as acreage, land use and the presence of water-impervious surfaces such as roads and buildings. For example, stormwater running off a downtown high-rise would put more of a demand on city infrastructure than park properties, whose porous soil or lakes might provide another route for water drainage.
Fees for residential properties -- single-family homes and duplexes only -- are uniform and don't take such factors as surface type into consideration.
"Whenever you understand something, you see it in a more positive light," said Beck, the deacon at First Assembly of God, after hearing the city's rationale for the new stormwater fees.
"But, my gosh, we'll just have to give less to needy funds."