Beginning Friday, about 21,000 property owners in Portland will be charged a new stormwater fee, based on the amount of hard, or impervious surface, on their property. The new fee is designed to generate revenue to help the city pay for $170 million in upgrades to its stormwater system over the next 15 years, as mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The new fee was established after several years of review by the city as a fair and equitable distribution of the costs. Councilors were concerned about increasing property taxes to pay for the upgrades, as well as adding the fee to water bills, which would exclude some larger property owners that contribute most to water pollution, such as parking lot owners and car dealerships, but use little to no water.

Anne Bilodeau, of the city’s finance department, said the city sent out test bills a few months ago and received a range of feedback.

“Some people were upset,” Bilodeau said. “Some people didn’t know about the program at all. Other people knew about the program, but wanted more information about it.”

Mayor Ethan Strimling said he supports the policy goals of the new ordinances, which also include a rental unit registry, that were enacted under his predecessor, Michael Brennan. However, Strimling said the city must be careful when considering policies that increase the cost of living and make Portland unaffordable for middle-class families.

“There’s no doubt that with taxes going up and you add in these fees, it makes it harder for the middle class, so we always have to be making sure we’re creating a balance,” Strimling said. “That either means looking at the fees in terms of how much they go up or how do we raise incomes in the city so people can afford these initiatives.”

About 700 property owners with relatively small bills (typically less than $25) will be billed annually, while the 1,400 properties with the largest bills (over $500 a year) will be invoiced monthly. Another 18,900 properties falling in the middle will be billed quarterly.

The city is offering credits to residents and businesses that either reduce the amount of hard, or impervious surfaces, or treat the rainwater that lands on their property with commercial grade systems, rain gardens or cisterns. A guide for credits is available on the city’s website.

So far, there has been more interest in appealing the bill amounts than applying for a credit, said Nancy Gallinaro, the city’s water resources manager.

“I think the process has been really good up to this point,” Gallinaro said. “We’re happy with the way it’s moving. We didn’t get the influx of credit applications we expected.”

Thirty-one property owners have appealed their bills, with 12 approved and 10 denied. One person withdrew an appeal, while the others are pending. Meanwhile, 11 residents have applied for credits, with four approved, one denied, two withdrawn and the others pending. Eight commercial properties have applied for credits, with one approved.

Anyone with questions about the appeals process or applying for credits should call Public Works at 874-8462.

LANDLORD REGISTRY

Landlords are also now required to register their rental properties in Portland, with a fee of $35 a unit, though credits of up to $15 are available.

The requirement is part of an ordinance enacted by the City Council in June in response to a November 2014 fire on Noyes Street that killed six people. After the fire, the city formed a task force to find ways to improve the safety of Portland’s rental properties, which house about half of the city’s 66,000 residents.

Although Friday is the deadline for registration, the city will not begin issuing $100-per-day fines for every unregistered rental unit until Feb. 1.

The city’s housing safety office has been so busy it is hiring a temporary worker to help with the workload, according to Jessica Grondin, the city’s communications director.

As of Wednesday, Grondin said 469 landlords had registered 2,564 rental units in person at City Hall, while another 438 landlords have registered 1,303 units online. Another 688 registrations for 2,835 units are pending, she said.

The city has billed landlords $97,361 in registration fees, and collected $42,726, she said.

The city estimated 17,000 rental units in the city and expected to receive at least $335,000 in fees from landlords, which will fund a new housing safety office. That office would coordinate housing inspections based on those that pose the highest risk. The office eventually will manage and oversee an online database with the safety records of rental properties that will be publicly accessible.

Anyone with questions about the registry should call 756-8131.