Council passes storm-water legislation

Last night, Council approved a $2 increase to the storm water fee by a 6-1 vote (Adaska).

For the past 12 years, the City has charged residents $3 per month as a “storm water fee.” The fee was never indexed to inflation or the cost of labor/materials. While $3 may have been sufficient in 2004, that revenue stream does not buy as much for the City 12 years later. If the $3 fee had increased with the Consumer Price Index, it would stand at almost $4 today. From my perspective, part of the rationale for increasing the fee was to fix that glitch.

It must also be noted that, once the City creates a piece of infrastructure, it must be maintained at an annual cost. Maintenance of infrastructure began to chew away at the $3 fee.

Everyone in city government agrees on two things: 1) There is about $17 million in projects that we need to complete that will help prevent residents’ homes from flooding. 2) We do not have the funds or revenue stream to make a meaningful dent in that list of projects.

A few months ago, three proposals arose to address the issue. One proposal was to raise the fee to $8 per month. Another was to tag business owners with a large burden. A third was to move some money around.

In my estimation, none of these had a chance to succeed, and personally, I didn’t support any of them. So I appointed the authors of each proposal to a special committee (Sara Kline, Brian Lowdermilk, and Jim Costello), and I tasked them with making a single proposal that they could each support. It took some time, but their deliberations resulted in the increase of $2 per month.

But the legislative process is never easy or smooth. Beginning at 7:30 am yesterday, and continuing until we voted at around 8:30 p.m. last night, I moderated last-minute disagreements relating to the language in the legislation.

But here is what we ended up passing:

  • The storm water fee will be $5 per month.
  • Non-project expenses are capped inside the original $3 portion of the fee.
  • Non-project expenses are entirely barred from the new $2 portion of the fee. In other words, there can be no spending on salaries, equipment, and studies. It may only be used for actual projects.
  • The fee will be re-assessed every 5 years. At any time, council may address whether the money is still needed.
  • The fee will increase by 10 cents every year, which is a 2% increase intended to allow the fund to keep pace with inflation and cost of labor/materials.
  • The legislation incorporates the $17 million list, so that the administration is mostly committed to spending on the projects identified.

You won’t find a person more sensitive than me to the financial struggles that many Stow residents face. So I did not take it lightly to raise this fee. But I have never forgotten the devastating stories of residents whose homes were destroyed, and whose life savings were wiped out, as a result of the most recent 100-year storm. Two dollars a month isn’t going to change anyone’s life. But if we put those collective dollars to good use, the city can mitigate life-altering disasters.

Council did the right thing last night. It will be our continuing obligation to ensure that this money is spent properly and efficiently.