Stormwater Start Up Fee Raises Council Concerns at Work Session

Updated 16 weeks ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Tough decisions often lead to “kicking the can” down the road depositing it by default on the plate of future decision makers.

Huntington has a Combined Sewer System, where rain runoff flows into the same underground pipes as sewage. When the sewer system is inadequate to carry the combined sewer overflow (CSO) such as  strong storms, street and basement flooding occurs, as well as dumping back up waters straight to the river. An objective of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) mandates that runoff which gathers contaminants from the soil be removed before the water flows into streams, such as the Ohio River.  (See video explaining CSO.)

Essentially, the sewer and storm water underground pipes must be separated ; however, Congress did not provide a funding mechanism in the CWA putting the burden on municipalities to come up with financing.

Gary Bunn
Gary Bunn

At large councilman Gary Bunn ( a former city planner and city manager) stated that past council members and mayors “should be ashamed” for avoiding the issues. “It’s not our fault, but we might as well bite the bullet and attack it,” he said.

Mayor Steve Willliams explained that in 1948 Chester Engineering brought up the problem. 65 years later, the city stands confronted by a potential infrastructure expense juggernaut where the bill could go into hundreds of millions of dollars for separations and upgrades.

Bunn’s “kicking the can” reference may apply more to leery councils, than past mayors. David Felinton brought three proposals before council.  Kim Wolfe’s administration named a storm sewer coordinator (and educator), but the proposal did not come before council as chairman Mark Bates and others believed the proposal was heavy on administration hires and lacked shovel ready tasks.

Despite tiered fees that for most residents range from $5 to $7 monthly, Williams admits the proposal is a “start up” project. It will not quickly fix Third Avenue, Fifth Avenue and viaduct flooding. His proposal would add $1.2 million to a transparent “enterprise” fund separated from general revenue collection. Uses of the monies would be displayed much like the “user fee” demonstrates where the $3 a week is spent for police department improvements and street paving.

Rick Simmons, Pete Gillespie
Rick Simmons, Pete Gillespie

Council members Pete Gillespie, Scott Caserta and Sandra Clements each had their separate but complementing concerns.

District Two’s Gillespie immediately suggested a deferral to the Storm Water Committee for more in depth examination of the proposal.

Vice chairperson  Clements emphasized public input. Determined that initial input not wait until the pre-vote second reading, Clements asked for “a public comment night. Let them come in, and let us roll on[ afterwards].”

Councilman Scott Caserta went to the taxpayer bottom line, “What are you going to spend the money on?” He asked that the administration answer previously e-mailed questions prior to Monday night’s first reading.

Scott Caserta, Frances Jackson
Scott Caserta, Frances Jackson

Williams and Gillespie agreed that the public could “speak their mind” at the to be scheduled committee meeting. The mayor asked that the item come back to council from referral as a second reading. He acknowledged that should major changes be made, a third reading would be necessary.

What neither the mayor nor council chair Mark Bates liked was a ponderance by Gilespie  that the matter be deferred until budget preparation, where members would try to whittle down some of the costs.

Williams said, “There’s not $1.2 million to move [from the general fund], adding, if you can find it, “I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and calculate.”

Bates downplayed that possible alternative. “The general fund has absorbed costs like never before. I think we have taken all the money [we can from it].”

The mayor reminded council members, “If we don’t do it, state and federal agencies will make the decisions for us.”

EPA last year fined the city but allowed a 90% reduction by agreeing that they do water mitigation projects.

The Williams administration has prepared an “FAQ” (frequently asked questions), which is available by clicking, http://www.huntingtonnews.net/78970

For a prior story on current council members touring the over-worked Waste Treatment Plant, click: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/55107 .

PBS NEWS HOUR VIDEO OF CRISIS BENEATH THE STREETS (of Detroit), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQSHsuZrccM
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