$2 fee/tax put on hold
by Rick DeClue · News · August 23, 2013

Whether it is considered a tax or a fee, the West Branch City Council on Monday did not go forward with a proposed Storm Water Utility.

The council tabled a decision until September.

“No matter how you want to state this, it’s a tax,” Council Member Jim Oaks said. “Taxes need public hearings.”

Mayor Mark Worrell supported formation of the utility for several years as a method to raise money for projects beyond normal maintenance of the city’s storm water system. He called it a “fee” and noted the city sets fees all the time and that the three readings of a new ordinance gives people a chance to discuss any changes.

City Engineer Dave Schechinger called it revenue for a city utility. Charges would be billed monthly on residential and business utility bills.

The proposed rate of $2 per single family property per month represents an Equivalent Residential Unit, according to the city. The same rate would be applied to each unit of a duplex or apartment building.

Commercial rates are determined by the amount of impervious ground, i. e. ground that cannot absorb storm water, divided by 4,000 square feet times $2. The 4,000 square feet represents the average impervious ground of an Equivalent Residential Unit.

Council Member Colton Miller, who also manages West Branch Village, opposed the measure, citing the $75,000 that the mobile home park has spent on its own storm water management.

“Now you want to charge us to drop storm water in a creek on our own land,” he said. Based on the number of mobile homes in the park, he estimated the program would cost about $6,000 per year for West Branch Village residents.

The only comparable charge would be for Procter & Gamble, which Schechinger roughly estimated would pay $6,600 per year.

Miller also noted the amount of water “coming through” from agricultural property to the north.

“We’ve maintained our own creek with zero dollars from West Branch, and now you want us to pay more,” he added.

Council Member Dick Stoolman joined Oaks in questioning how many dollars would be generated and what projects they would fund.

After a discussion between Schechinger and City Attorney Kevin Olson, who drafted the proposed ordinance, they guessed that annual revenues would be $20,000 to $30,000. Olson has helped several communities establish these storm water utilities, including Coralville.

Olson said that most communities start at the $2 rate, and then raise it if needed.

Worrell could not define any specific projects other than talking generally about fixing flow from the north side of town, perhaps with something similar to the dam completed last year with the help of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum and the Hoover Association.

Speaking of potential uses, Oaks said, “parts of town will benefit, parts will not.” He did not agree with Worrell’s thought to raise the money, and then determine which projects to pursue.

Oaks also asked if the utility would apply charges to the city’s schools. When Olson said yes, Oaks wondered why the city charges the schools, who could then raise their tax levy to cover the additional cost.

The definition of a “residential unit” changed during the discussion. The council agreed that West Branch Village and apartments would be considered “commercial properties.”

Schechinger said that would lower the cost to the mobile home park substantially.

There is no distinction between large, single,family homes, which are typically newer, and smaller homes in the downtown section of West Branch. However, adjusting rates for different-sized homes would only mean a few dollars per year, Schechinger said. The council felt that simpler was better.

In addition, a question about two-story buildings with retail below and apartments above being charged double, in effect, was not resolved.

Near the end of the discussion, Worrell asked whether there was at least agreement on the basic need for the storm water utility as a means of raising funds for projects to enhance the city’s system.

Oaks said, “if we vote tonight, it might not pass.”

Worrell thanked everyone for the input on all aspects of the proposal.

Before the Sept. 3 council meeting, City Administrator Matt Muckler said he will work with Olson and Schechinger to try to answer more questions, provide detail and offer some options for the rate structure and the ordinance. Public Works Director Matt Goodale said he will provide a list of potential projects.

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