considers stormwater utility fee
Lenoir City Council has proposed a stormwater utility fee requiring that residential and business property owners pay a monthly charge for water runoff.
The fee is a result of an unfunded mandate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to maintain the public stormwater system.
Lenoir City Administrator Amber Scott said the city will be one of about 40-50 in the state who have a fee in place for the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System program.
“If we don’t uphold this program, then they can come in and fine us,” Scott said.
The stormwater utility fee is $3 for single-family residence, but for businesses the calculations are based off an Equivalent Residential Unit.
“If your commercial business is 12,000 square feet, then you would take that … 2,000 (square feet), divide it into that 12,000, so they would be paying six units,” Greg Buckner, city stormwater manager, said. “But then we have a tier program set up to — you hit certain tiers — zero to 5,000 (square feet) pays this fee, 5,000 (square feet) to 35,000 (square feet) pays this fee.”
A document provided at the May 8 council meeting shows an ERU tier system beginning with zero to 5,000 square feet of impervious area pays $25, while the highest level of more than 2 million square feet pays $3,000. Buckner said 90 percent of businesses fall within the first two tiers of 0-5,000 and 5,001-35,000 square feet, with the second tier paying $50.
“Only a few extend those square footages — like say Walmart,” Buckner said. “It’s a large building with a large parking lot. They encompass a lot of impervious surface. Most of your businesses are smaller like O’Reilly’s and McDonald’s; they’re a lot smaller footprints. Obviously, they’re going to be paying a lot less money.”
For years Lenoir City has absorbed stormwater maintenance costs out of the general fund, which Scott said cost $400,000-$500,000 annually, but that cost has become a “burden” for the city.
Funding goes to repairing and maintaining infrastructure. City officials hope to save money for unforeseen issues.
“Anytime we run a street sweeper on our roads through the street department, the crews that come around and pick up the brush and other debris from peoples’ residences in the city, those are debris that we’re keeping out of the storm system, because whenever debris such as that gets into the storm system like that it clogs it up and it doesn’t function the way that it’s supposed to,” Scott said.
The fee system was based off researching other cities in similar situations, Buckner said. Some tried raising fees for permits to help offset costs, but he sees a flaw in that approach.
“If building stops ... and you’re not having new construction, then you have no money coming in,” Buckner said. “So (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) does not recommend trying to fund it any way, form or fashion than besides a fee, because even if construction stops you still have all this infrastructure in place.”
By making it a utility fee, Buckner said it guarantees the money can only be used for a specific purpose.
Scott said city officials are trying to be proactive instead of reactive.
“And again, that’s not putting monies to carry over year to year so that you’re prepared to have some failures in the future in the infrastructure,” Buckner said. “I think it would be bad hindsight to not put some monies back, and if you have (the) system fail, and you’re looking at trying to pull $150,000 out of general fund, which sometimes is and sometimes isn’t there.”
City council will vote on a second reading of the fee during a special called meeting at 1:30 p.m. June 5 at Lenoir City Hall. Public hearings will begin at 1 p.m. A third reading should follow at the 7 p.m. June 26 meeting.
“Congress is the one that mandated the certain criteria municipalities or counties have a stormwater program inside itself,” Buckner said. “Of course, that was what they called a unfunded mandate. So they don’t give you any money to do it, they just tell you how you do it.”
• 0-5,000 sq. ft. — $25
• 5,001-35,000 sq. ft. — $50
• 35,001-70,000 sq. ft. — $100
• 70,001-100,000 sq. ft. — $200
• 100,001-200,000 sq. ft. — $300
• 200,001-300,000 sq. ft. — $400
• 300,001-400,000 sq. ft. — $500
• 400,001-500,000 sq. ft. — $600
• 500,001-600,000 sq. ft. — $700
• 600,001-700,000 sq. ft. — $800
• 700,001-800,000 sq. ft. — $900
• 800,001-900,000 sq. ft. — $1,000
• 900,001-1,500,000 sq. ft. — $1,500
• 1,500,001-2,000,000 sq. ft. — $2,000
• 2,000,001-beyond sq. ft. — $3,000