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Residents Oppose Storm Water Fee, No Recommendation to Council by Committee
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams stressed the public safety prong of the flooding prone sewer system which results in reduced response times by both the Huntington Fire Department and the Huntington Police Department.
Police Chief Skip Holbrook told the committee the average response time is six minutes. "Any significant hard rain will flood two viaducts and cause us to proceed to [the ] 14th Street West viaduct... when it comes to police and fire seconds do matter."
Citizen input centered on either the amount of the fee, fee calculations, or whether at least a portion of the money could be squeezed from existing revenue sources.
Resident Allen Kaplan called the stormwater proposal another "nuisance fee," which will drive people out of the city. He complained that "new hires" by the city should be "farmed out" so the city is not responsible for benefits and retirement. Other residents, such as Richard Strode, stated, "I'm not going to pay the fee. We've been down this road for 20 or 25 years." Strode inferred that the city should be saving not spending funds and pledged to open a savings account in the name of city council."
David Jackson called the fee "a money grab" that "has to stop."
Accountant Jack Mease spoke in favor of the fee stating, "these floods adversely affect business" by causing traffic tie-ups nearly every time it rains. Mease asked , "what are the health risks from these floods. You do not know what's coming out of the sewers."
Randy Rutledge favored the fee rather than have the Environmental Protection Agency impose more fines against the city.
Surprisingly, ardent critic Tom McAllister by the end of the hearing admitted "This has to go forward." He asked that the city finance director provide a spending spread sheet demonstrating expenditures from this year's $6.4 million dollars in sales tax revenue and the year's user fee revenue. McAllister , in fact, refuted a hand full of residents who stated they will not pay the fee. "If you don't pay , the city and sanitary board can shut off your water," McAllister said.
Councilman Rick Simmons expressed concern that parents not able to afford the fee or refusing to pay the fee will lead to children not receiving dinner.
Current council chairman Mark Bates praised the administration for "keeping promises" , adding that "it's time we take a bite of the apple. The city is in better shape. People are working together."
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams clarified a continuing misstatement concerning sales tax revenue. Originally, any amount over $7 million dollar in occupation tax collections would have been dedicated to capital improvements to infrastructure. The occupation tax was rescinded. No constraints have been placed on sales tax collections, which have exceeded estimates. The Mayor also insisted that those individuals who label the storm water assessment a "tax" are incorrect. It is a fee for service provided and one that residents can not opt out of by merely disconnecting their drains.
Williams told the committee that profits and nonprofits within the city would be responsible for paying the fee, including the two major hospitals. "Marshall University is not an island," the Mayor explained. They will pay 50% of the amount as they already take affirmative rain water control action.
Summing up the no recommendation, following the meeting, Simmons stated, "I concur that something needs to be done...However, I am not sure that this is the right proposal. It has too many what ifs..." The Guyandotte councilman believes that too much of the funding comes "off the back of home owners."
Council will vote Monday on the ordinance.