Tuesday, December 10, 2013
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James Grattelo, owner of Joker’s Family Fun and Games on Warren Avenue, says the stormwater fee is a big issue for his business, which has a large impervious surface.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
The City Council agreed to the concept of a stormwater fee last year based on the recommendations of a task force that studied the issue for about a year.
Like the sewer billing system, paying for the improvements through property taxes also was deemed unfair because it would exclude large nonprofit groups such as hospitals and churches.
The city is currently under a consent decree with the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that requires it to address its sewer/stormwater issues.
Such stormwater fees are being implemented across the country to pay for upgrades mandated under the Clean Water Act.
According to city data, the impact of Portland's proposed fee on residential properties is less than the average of 55 communities surveyed.
Portland's projected monthly fee for a typical residence is $6.16, whereas the national average is $7.91. The highest monthly fee was in $20 in Portland, Ore., and the lowest was $2 a month in Houston, Texas.
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the city has hired a Washington, D.C.-based consultant for about $20,000 a year, in part to work on securing federal funding for the effort and "regulatory relief" for complying with federal standards.
With the ongoing budget battle in Washington, Brennan said it's unlikely the city will see federal dollars anytime soon. However, the city might avoid potential fines by moving forward with the efforts and it might avoid more costly fixes by implementing cheaper, greener strategies such as rain gardens and green roofs, he said.
On Thursday, the council's Finance Committee will review a proposed rate structure and discuss a timeline for implementing the program, said City Councilor and Finance Committee Chairman John Anton. The fee was originally scheduled to take effect in January, but the program will likely be delayed for another year, Houseal said.
"We want to make sure this is rolled out in a way people understand what's going on," Anton said.
In addition to paying for specific project costs, the fee would also have to cover $500,000 in costs to administer the program, Houseal said.
Preliminary data released by the city show the initial rate of $6.16 is for 1,200 square feet of impervious surface. That rate is projected to grow 7 percent to 11 percent annually over the next four years.
The estimated cost for a residential property owner ranges from $79.32 a year for up to 1,800 square feet of impervious surface, to $317.28 a year on a property ranging from 4,200 square feet to 5,400 square feet.
City taxpayers, meanwhile, also would have to pay at least $335,000 a year in stormwater fees for impervious surfaces on city land. That taxpayer cost could increase if the Finance Committee decides to include public roads in the program.
The amount of impervious surface on each property has been calculated using aerial maps, Houseal said. The city hired a map specialist to determine which surfaces should be charged.
The city would likely update that database every five years, and there is an appeals process for any property owners who believe they are being overcharged, Houseal said. Building permits will also be used to calculate impervious surface.
Several business owners contacted last week still had not heard much about the program.
"I haven't heard of any fee structure," said Tim Reardon, manager of Quirk Chevrolet on Brighton Avenue.
Unum spokeswoman Mary Clarke Guenther said the company did not have any comment on the stormwater fee that could increase the company's costs by nearly $30,500.
Chris O'Neil, the Portland Community Chamber's City Hall lobbyist, has been doing his best to keep the organization's 600 business members in the loop.
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