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Raining Fees: City Requires $8 Million Annually for Stormwater Management

Apr 08, 2016

Norman has many stormwater needs which have been unfunded and languishing for years, if not decades.

Joy Hampton -Senior Staff Writer, The Norman Transcript, Okla.  |  Original Source

{A home in the Red Creek Run addition sits next to a field of water after heavy rains hit Norman. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)}

(TNS) - Norman needs $8 million annually to meet stormwater needs. Covering that dollar amount translates to a stout stormwater utility fee which could be as welcome as a rainy day during a flood.

It’s a dilemma created by the fact that Norman voters must approve all utility rate increases, and the city has not pushed to get one passed until now.

Nationally, many cities implemented a fee when the Environmental Protection Agency first issued comprehensive stormwater management regulations in March of 2003.

In May of 2002, Broken Arrow implemented a Stormwater Utility Fee and the city’s Stormwater Management Program rolled out two years later.

Broken Arrow now charges $4.50 per month charge for each $2,650 square footage of impervious area. That charge is based on the average impervious area of homes, also known as Equivalency Service Unit (ESU). The charge was calculated after the city studied of the actual costs of services needed for Broken Arrow’s Stormwater Management Program and has been in effect since 2014.

Rooftops, asphalt or concrete surfaces such as sidewalks, driveways, roads and parking lots are examples of impervious areas that rainwater can’t penetrate, creating runoff and the need for stormwater drains that discharge into local water bodies.

Smaller than Norman, Broken Arrow is the fourth largest city in the state, with an estimated population of 107,000 spread out over 55 square miles.

According to the most recent budget available online, Broken Arrow gets right around $4 million annually from its stormwater utility fee.

Norman city leadership must determine how much the city needs for stormwater mitigation and how to raise that much money in a fair and equitable way that gets the job done without putting an undue burden on any residential or commercial utility customers.

• Funding needed to meet government mandates

Norman has many stormwater needs which have been unfunded and languishing for years, if not decades. While the 2012 transportation bond approves some capital improvements for drainage and flooding in conjunction with Lindsey Street and other road and bridge improvements, Norman still has a laundry list of capital improvement needs related to stormwater, flooding and erosion and more projects are being identified on an ongoing basis.

{Waters remain high in the north fork of the Little Rover as it crosses Franklin Road where roads were closed do to flooding from the wettest May on record Wednesday, June 5.  (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)}

City Engineer Scott Sturtz said the city has begun monitoring and reporting according to the requirements based the TMDL study of Lake Thunderbird and is in compliance with the TMDL.

The city sent its plan for complying with the TMDL requirements to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and are waiting to hear if DEQ will accept the plan. Another, different TMDL associated with the Canadian River is still in process.

City staff believes those requirements will overlap within the Little River watershed, allowing them to be combined.

Currently, the city is paying $1.7 million this fiscal year for stormwater pipeline channel maintenance and an additional $935,000 is needed to make repairs to stream corridors and to do preventative maintenance.

Street sweepers are a big part of how the city hopes to meet TMDL requirements and to acquire a state stormwater permit.

“[Sweepers] remove that source of pollutant directly from the streets,” Sturtz said.

The city is investing $408,000 from the general fund to operate its two street sweepers and for litter control, but to meet unfunded mandates, Norman needs to buy four new street sweepers at a total cost of $340,000.

The city is currently investing $265,000 in stormwater quality controls such as inspecting construction sites but needs $495,000 more for inspections, enforcement, and TMDL compliance.

“This is one area that will grow,” Sturtz said of that cost.

• Growing need for capital and other costs

Down the road, Norman anticipates needing $681,195 during fiscal year 2018 to assess the condition of 138 miles of stormwater pipeline, some of which are 90 years old and range in size from one foot to 10 by 10 foot boxes. That assessment is required by an unfunded state mandate and will help identify illicit discharges, as well as areas in need of repair.

{Flash flooding soaks the streets of Norman during a thunderstorm in 2013. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)}

Funding is also needed to help with repairs that neighborhood homeowners associations cannot afford without assistance. The city anticipates a 50-50 cost share on several badly needed projects at an estimated budget of $250,000 annually.

That would cover two to four projects per year with an average cost per project up to $100,000.

Those projects include small drainage structures like flumes, inlets and outlets in ponds and drainage channels.

The Stormwater Master Plan identifies many small capital projects. Add to that cost share programs such as Cambridge drainage structure repairs, Summit Lakes dam repairs and Vineyard Addition drainage improvements and the city ends up with an average cost of $100,000 to $500,000 doing two to four projects a year for a cost of $1.6 million.

Other potential stormwater utility programs include a small reserve savings of $200,000 for unexpected emergencies, access trail construction of $100,000, easement and right-of-way acquisition $300,00, equipment replacement costs of $500,00, GIS updates to appropriately assess impervious surfaces $50,000 and equipment maintenance $155,589.

“Street sweepers are very labor intensive and very costly to maintain,” Sturtz said

• The million dollar question: How to pay for it all

The Norman City Council is looking at four different options to meet the city’s stormwater needs. Only one of those options generates anything near $8 million. The other three options are being tweaked, but right now they each generate about $5 million, leaving the general fund to continue carrying a sizable share of the burden.

The problem the council faces is the sticker shock Norman voters are likely to feel if a plan for the full $8 million is proposed.

As the pricing options are narrowed, public meetings will be scheduled for the purposes of education and to garner feedback. Mayor Cindy Rosenthal wants to push through without delay and the council’s Finance Committee meeting next week will look further at the options for fairly spreading the cost.

Rosenthal would like to schedule an election for Aug. 23, but several council members think that deadline is not reasonable given the need for public input.

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©2016 The Norman Transcript (Norman, Okla.)

Visit The Norman Transcript (Norman, Okla.) at www.normantranscript.com

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