"Meat on the Bone" Huntington Stormwater Proposal Received Favorably

Updated 18 weeks ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
"Meat on the Bone" Huntington Stormwater Proposal Received Favorably

Recognizing that earlier feedback on a stormwater start up fee had been met with skepticism from some public and council members, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams proposed two ordinances which save the city funds, dive in to street flooding issues, and consolidate resources.

Merging the floodwall division  with the Sanitary Board and Storm Water Utility saves a $200,000 software investment and $50,000 a year in utility costs. 

For instance,  placing the Flood Wall division  under the Huntington Sanitary Board, "one crew" would have responsibility for sinkholes, unlike  now where both the Huntington Sanitary Board and Public Works Department ponder which department has the repair task. As proposed, the merger assures that they remain on the same page with compatible information.

Removing the flood wall funding of $565,000 from the Municipal Services Fee, it will  become a Fire Service Fee on October 1, Property owners will see a 10% reduction. "We cannot expect our citizens to pay for service twice. If you look over the last seven years, the average budget of the floodwall division was  roughly $565,000."

An upcoming ordinance will address floodwall payments, which would be under the Storm Water Utility.

WATER QUALITY

"Meat on the Bone" Huntington Stormwater Proposal Received Favorably

Recalling the January Elk River chemical spill and the immediate "what effect will it have on our water" question, Williams explained that the organizational alteration will allow tackling of street , underpass and  basement flooding gremlins that have impaired the city for 60 years due to continuing decay of infrastructure.

For two years, property owners and business would pay $7.15 per month. After completion of impervious surface mapping, businesses with over 3,000 square feet pay $1.05 per 1,000 square feet of impervious material. This would cap at one million square feet so as not to discourage expansion within the city. (Eight entities have more than one million square feet within the city.) Thus, instead of operating costs rising with expanded development, business would be "encouraged" to build to their heart's content. "That's an incentive no one gets elsewhere," 

Initially, the flat rate fee would bring in $1.4 million a year, which could be bond leveraged against $23 million of capital improvements such as on  Third Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Stanford Park and Arlington Blvd. The Sanitary Board has, since a 1999 WV Supreme Court ruling, been responsible for keeping sewers and catch basins clear.

The new proposal originated from an ad hoc work group assembly of representatives from Cabell Huntington Hospital, St. Mary's Hospital, Marshall University, Steel of WV, the Chamber of Commerce, Southwestern District Labor Council, Neighborhood Associations, Pastors, and real estate developers. They met three times spending nine to ten hours on the planning.

Rick Simmons
Rick Simmons

Council vice chairman applauded Williams for his "I'm back" (a remembered quote from "The Shining" by Jack Nicholson) approach to an issue which other councils and administrations have kicked the can down the road for 60 years or more.

Council vice chairman Scott Caserta followed Gary Bunn's "thanks for listening" compliment with a "we have flooded enough. Let's go forward" summation.

At large council member Rebecca Thacker seemed satisfied  of the mayor's "show a card" provision for a 65% discount for those on social security, Medicaid, SSI, food stamps and other public assistance. Under the prior start up proposal, the low income adjustment would have been discretionary.

Councilman Rick Simmons, who led a charge against the start up fee, called the new proposal "thorough and fair."

The proposal allows for discounts for property owner enhancements such as for rain barrels and rain gardens which reduce the flow of water after rains into the stormwater system. Discounts will be determined by the Water Quality Board.

Documents are available for download.

Also, the official announcement from the City of Huntington Communication's Office is below:

City of Huntington Water Quality Proposal

Summary

The water quality proposal that will go before Huntington City Council as the first reading of an ordinance on Monday, June 9, is the beginning of a multi-faceted program that will set the standard for flood control management throughout the state of West Virginia.

There are three services related to management of the water quality and quantity in the City of Huntington: 1.) the Huntington Sanitary Board 2.) the Huntington Floodwall Division and 3.) the Huntington Stormwater Division. The latter two entities fall under the City of Huntington’s Department of Public Works. The Sanitary Board is separate from the City of Huntington and has its own budget, although the mayor serves as chairman of the Sanitary Board and any expenditures that exceed $25,000 must be approved by City Council.

Each of these entities was established in response to separate historic events such as the 1937 flood (Floodwall) and passage of portions of the federal Clean Water Act (Sanitary Board and Stormwater).

To achieve maximum efficiency and effectiveness of the functions provided by these three divisions, Mayor Steve Williams is proposing that the three functions be merged into a newly-created entity called the Huntington Water Quality Board.

Without a structure in place to address our flooding problems, Huntington will struggle to remain competitive in attracting residents and businesses that depend on adequate infrastructure.

The reasons behind Huntington’s flooding woes stem from an aging sewer system and years of inaction. Much of the city’s sewer system, which is about a century old, consists of lines that carry both stormwater and sewage. That situation creates hazardous overflow into streets, basements and streams during heavy rains and has prompted fines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Cost estimates to build a whole new system have been in the hundreds of millions. Trying to come up with a plan to fix everything right away is unrealistic, but doing nothing is not acceptable either. To experience residential and business growth, the City must take innovative steps to maintain its existing infrastructure.

Assembling the proposal

After Mayor Williams’ initial proposal was referred to City Council’s Finance Committee in January, he assembled a committee of citizens that represented various facets of the community: neighborhood associations, pastors, real estate developers, Marshall University, labor organizations, the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, St. Mary’s Medical Center, Cabell-Huntington Hospital, Steel of West Virginia, City Council and the Huntington Sanitary Board.

The goal of establishing the committee was to vet any proposal so that it did not contain unintended consequences. The committee met several times during the past month and reached a consensus on the proposal that will go before Huntington City Council on June 9.
The result is a proposal that creates greater efficiencies, provides the ability to finance long-term capital improvement projects, is more equitable than the proposed fee structure from six months ago and encourages development.

How the Floodwall Division, Stormwater Division and Sanitary Board will merge

Under the proposal, the three entities that protect water quality and manage water quantity will fall under a newly-created Huntington Water Quality Board. The Water Quality Board will be responsible for supervising and managing the Huntington Sanitary Board as well as the new Huntington Stormwater Utility.

All affected employees (10 total), property, assets, functions and duties of the Stormwater and Floodwall divisions will transfer to the Stormwater Utility. The Water Quality Board will consist of the three members of the Sanitary Board. These structural changes would take effect immediately upon passage of the ordinance.

Efficiencies created as a result of merging

The City of Huntington’s obligations as it relates to operations of the floodwall, sanitary sewer and stormwater systems have been accomplished by separate organizations. Doing so has created numerous areas of overlap where each separate program is required to accomplish the same activity. In the past, there have been instances in which sewer repairs have resulted in the deployment of personnel from more than one division.

Other areas where efficiencies will be created include pollution prevention, public education and involvement, record keeping, management and administration. Some specific examples of efficiencies include:

  • Mapping software. The City of Huntington will not have to purchase mapping software at a cost of about $200,000. The Huntington Sanitary Board purchased software 15 years ago and continues to update it daily.
  • Response time will be reduced. Sanitary Board crews will handle sanitary repairs as well as storm line repairs. Meanwhile, the Sanitary Board’s broad range of knowledge in the operation and maintenance of pumps and motors will bring a more resourceful response to issues involving the floodwall pump stations.
  • The City will save $48,000 on building rental once the Floodwall Division is moved to Sanitary Board facilities.
  • The Sanitary Board is now cleaning catch basins and can clean streets under its long-term control plan, resulting in a reduced cost of approximately $200,000 annually to the city.

Imposition of Water Quality Service Fee

As proposed in the ordinance, the Huntington Stormwater Utility will impose a Water Quality Service Fee of $7.15 per month, effective Oct. 1, 2014, for both residential and nonresidential property owners during the first two years. This will give the Stormwater Utility time to conduct mapping of impervious surfaces across the city.

Upon completion of the mapping, monthly residential rates will remain at $7.15. Monthly nonresidential rates will be $7.15 for the first 3,000 square feet of impervious surface. Nonresidential customers also will pay $1.05 for each additional 1,000 square feet of impervious surface, not to exceed 1 million square feet.

Nonresidential example No. 1
A property owner with 100,000 square feet of impervious surface will pay:
$7.15 (base fee) + $101.85 (97,000 square feet of chargeable impervious surface) = $109/mo.

Nonresidential example No. 2
A property owner with 1 million or more square feet of impervious surface will pay:
$7.15 (base fee) + $1,046.85 (997,000 square feet of chargeable impervious surface) = $1,054/mo.

Billing and collection of water quality service fee
The billing for the Water Quality Service Fee will be combined with the billing for the Sanitary Board’s fee. However, all Water Quality Service Fee funds collected by the Huntington Stormwater Utility will be accounted for separately and must be used solely for the purposes of the Stormwater Utility (West Virginia Code 16-13-1).

Water Quality Service Fee exemptions
The West Virginia Division of Highways will be the only entity exempt from paying the water quality service fee. State law exempts the WVDOH from having to pay. All other governmental, residential, commercial and nonprofit entities would have to pay.

Public assistance discounts
Residential property owners who are recipients of public assistance (Medicaid, food stamps, supplemental security income, federal public housing assistance, low-income home energy assistance program benefits, temporary assistance to needy families benefits, or benefits under other income-related state or federal programs) will be assessed a Water Quality Service Fee that is 35 percent of the base residential rate.

Discount credits
After the mapping of impervious surfaces is completed, the Water Quality Board will offer discount credits to residential and nonresidential property owners who make efforts to reduce or eliminate stormwater runoff into the city’s sewer system. The discount credits will only apply to residential and nonresidential properties that contain between 3,000 and 1 million square feet of impervious surface.

When the public will see action
The Huntington Sanitary Board is cleaning catch basins now. Those efforts will intensify after the merger is complete. After the mapping is completed in two years, the Stormwater Utility will begin collecting the impervious surface portion of the Water Quality Service Fee, giving it the revenue stream it needs to issue bonds to begin addressing long-term capital improvement projects. 

Reduction of Municipal Service Fee
City Council will consider a separate ordinance on Monday, June 9, to reduce the Municipal Service Fee by 10 percent. The Floodwall Division also would be removed from the ordinance as one of the entities that receives Municipal Service Fee revenues.

The Municipal Service Fee, which is currently designated for fire and floodwall protection, generates approximately $6 million annually. The Floodwall Division, on average, has received about 10 percent of that amount in recent years to operate.

The Municipal Service Fee is primarily based on the square footage of structures that you own. There is an annual base fee of $120 that is divided into four quarterly billings. In addition to the base fee, property owners pay 7.35 cents per square foot of property.

Under the proposed ordinance, the annual base fee will be reduced to $108, and the square footage fee will be reduced to 6.62 cents, thus resulting in a reduction of the fee for all residential and nonresidential property owners. If approved by City Council, the ordinance will take effect Oct. 1, 2014.

Grants
The city will remain proactive in its efforts to secure grants to address flooding problems. For example, the city has partnered with KYOVA in applying for a $250,000 Federal Highway Administration TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant to define a strategy for fixing flooding on 3rd and 5th avenues and in the underpasses.

 

 

 

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