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A system of stormwater user fees is not a tax to be voted on. It is a charge for services rendered and benefits received by customers of the City stormwater control system. We recognize that it may be difficult to understand why the City now wants to charge property owners for services that were not previously being charged for. In reality, the City has been paying for the existing stormwater program using General Fund tax revenue, but due to increasing costs, and the increased maintenance and tracking requirements of the new permit, it cannot continue to do so. State law allows a system of stormwater user fees to be implemented by the City Council without a public vote. The City believes it is legitimate to treat stormwater services the same as water, sewer, and sanitation services, where customers pay for services received.
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The calculations were determined using aerial images and GIS technology to measure the amount of impervious surface area (ISA) present on a representative sample of residential properties in Moscow. Impervious surfaces are materials that do not allow the penetration of water, such as buildings, roads, and parking areas. The average of the measurements was set as one Equivalent Service Unit (ESU), which is 3,340 square feet. Residential bills will be set at either 0.5, 1.0, or 2 ESU depending on the amount of ISA present on the specific parcel.
We are sensitive to the fact that as one group receives a fee credit or waiver it can shift costs to other groups, raising their fees. In addition, we cannot arbitrarily waive fees or offer credits, there has to be a sound justification for doing so and the reduction in their fee needs to correspond with a reduction in the cost of providing services to the customer receiving the reduction. Therefore, we have limited the number of credits and waivers for consideration. Credits for Municipal Stormwater Permit holders were discussed above, others are described below:
No, these are not the same thing. “Water” refers to operation of the drinking water system, including treatment, supply systems, and regulatory compliance (Safe Drinking Water Act).
“Wastewater” refers to the domestic sewer system, including sewage collection system, wastewater treatment plant operation, and regulatory compliance (Clean Water Act, the WRRF has an NPDES Wastewater Discharge Permit).
“Stormwater” refers to the operation of the storm drain system to convey and dispose of rainwater or snowmelt runoff, including the runoff collection, conveyance, outfall system, and local water ways. Stormwater is now being regulated like wastewater, which is why the City is under an NPDES Permit.
By law, stormwater user fees cannot be used for non-stormwater activities. Like other utilities, the City will establish clear work plans and budgets. The budget will be available for scrutiny and will be adopted in an open setting just like existing water and sewer budgets.
The NPDES Permit went into effect in October 2019, yet we have no dedicated funding mechanism to ensure compliance. Non-compliance with NPDES is not a situation the City can afford to be in, so we need to secure the resources to move towards compliance as soon as possible. Accomplishing the full array of things that NPDES requires us to do can be done, but it will be a challenge and we need to begin quickly in order to meet the deadlines and avoid liability and risk of third-party lawsuits. City staff recommend that General Fund tax revenue continue to be used during the first two years of the 5-year permit term due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, with stormwater fees enacted in October 2021.
The City recognizes that some properties may not use the City’s stormwater control system. In these cases, a property owner will be exempted from stormwater user fees. Residential and commercial customers who submit site specific topographic and drainage information and a hydrologic analysis to the City that shows runoff will not leave the property, or portions thereof, for up to and including a 100-year, 24-hour storm event are eligible for a waiver for the applicable portion of the property. The hydrologic analysis shall be completed by a qualified professional, such as an engineer or equivalent.
Multi-Sector Permit holders are required to meet benchmarks or standards for runoff quality and conduct management practices to bring their stormwater pollution into a “normal” range. Municipal Stormwater Permit holders must implement activities to reduce their stormwater pollution below the “normal” range. Both types of discharge still consume system capacity and use City stormwater services. The City will provide a 20 percent fee credit for holders of valid Municipal Stormwater Permit (such as the University of Idaho) to reflect that the permittee’s program reduces their stormwater pollution below the “normal” range.
We are attempting to keep stormwater user fees at a low enough level so they are not an undue burden, even for low-income households. However, to be consistent with our other utilities we are not offering reduced fees to low-income senior property owners at this time.
Sidewalks are considered part of the City street right-of-way. Therefore, sidewalks will not be included in the calculation of impervious surface for determining stormwater fees for customers. Owners who think their fees are incorrect will be able to submit information to have corrections made by the City.
Technical assistance is available from City Engineering staff. Assistance is available locally to help understand and address stormwater management requirements. This includes what types of Best Management Practices (BMPs) can be used for preventing erosion during construction and for treating or detaining stormwater over the longer term. The City will provide updated stormwater design standards and specifications for use by developers, contractors, and engineers. In the meantime, engineers and developers should confer with City staff about stormwater development standards and other local requirements. The Catalog of Stormwater Best Management Practices for Idaho Cities and Counties (IDEQ, 2005) may also be resource for engineers and developers.
The Lewiston stormwater decision was accounted for during the development of the City’s system of stormwater user fees. Each legal issue raised by the Court during the Lewiston case was considered and responded to as the City considered and selected user fee policies and rate structures that are appropriate for use within the Moscow. Since then, other Idaho cities have implemented storm utilities, with a local example being the City of Coeur D’Alene which has had a storm utility in place since 2012.
The City tried to avoid being covered under the NPDES Permit but was unsuccessful. Therefore, the City has negotiated with EPA since 2007 to minimize the regulatory and economic impacts of permit coverage on the City.
While we know that our waterways are being impacted by stormwater runoff and illicit discharges, the main reason for enhancing our program is the fact that the City is faced with its own new stormwater requirements. These requirements make it impossible for the City to continue paying for the stormwater program largely from General Fund tax revenues. The main regulatory law the City now faces is:
Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) – Phase II of the CWA, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) requires that the City be covered under and comply with a Federal stormwater permit in order to legally discharge municipal stormwater into local waterways. The City has been under the NPDES Permit since October 1, 2019. In order to comply with the permit, the City must implement stormwater management activities, including: (1) public education, outreach, and involvement; (2) finding and eliminating illegal polluted discharges; (3) construction site erosion and sediment control; (4) post-construction stormwater management on new development and redevelopment; (5) pollution prevention and good housekeeping for City operations; (6) performing outfall monitoring and assessment activities for discharges to water quality impaired stream and creeks ; and (7) keeping records and preparing compliance reports.
Operating the City’s stormwater control system drains runoff and related pollutants from developed properties within the City, helps prevent flooding of homes and businesses, ensures that drainage from future growth does not impact existing property owners, provides for the safe passage on City roads, and protects environmental resources and public health by controlling pollutants discharged by customers to the system.
The money from stormwater user fees will be used to cover the cost the City incurs in managing and operating the municipal stormwater control system in compliance with federal and state laws. The municipal stormwater control system exists to provide drainage services to property owners within the City. To this point, Streets Department staff has managed basic housekeeping activities and acted in a mostly reactionary manner to address stormwater issues as they arise. Some of the things that stormwater fees will be used for include:
The City will provide a stormwater user fee credit to non-residential properties that retain and infiltrate their stormwater onsite and meet certain criteria.
Onsite retention and infiltration of stormwater runoff promotes groundwater recharge and reduces the volume of runoff from a customer’s property, which reduces the level of City stormwater services received by the customer.
However, it should be noted that in our region infiltration is not practically possible. Other areas have soil and bedrock conditions that allow the water to infiltrate down into the ground. Our clay soil and layers of basalt prevent this from happening effectively on the Palouse. This has been confirmed by an infiltration feasibility study commissioned by the City in the spring of 2021.