Council passes storm water feeOwners of single-family homes will soon see a new $46.20 annual charge on their city utility bills, as the Hastings City Council approved a new storm water fee Tuesday night. The fee will likely begin showing up on utility bills in March.
By: Keith Grauman, The Hastings Star-Gazette
Owners of single-family homes will soon see a new $46.20 annual charge on their city utility bills, as the Hastings City Council approved a new storm water fee Tuesday night. The fee will likely begin showing up on utility bills in March.
Land zoned public/institutional, such as schools, churches, hospitals, and the Dakota County Government Center, were excluded from the fee, which decreased the total amount it will take in from about $467,000 to $431,337.
By changing how the rates are calculated for the various land uses in the city, the annual commercial/office rate dropped to about $221 per acre, or $28 per acre less than the original proposal. The rate for industrial zoned land also fell from about $210 to $194.
The only rates that increased when the rate calculations changed were for single-family homes, open space/vacant land, and agricultural, which are all charged the same annual per lot fee of $46.20, or about $3 more than the original proposal.
Council Member Mike Slavik said most of the comments he received from constituents were concerning the city’s original proposal to charge schools and churches the storm water fee. He said many people felt they would end up paying for the fee multiple times – at their homes, through their school taxes, and through donations to their places of worship.
The new fee is the city’s way of coming up with a dedicated funding source for storm water management in the city, which had previously been funded by property taxes and taking on debt.
“This is one more thing we no longer have to borrow for,” Slavik said.
The sole voice of dissention on the council came from Council Member Tony Alongi, who said that while he doesn’t argue with the fact that paying for storm water management is something the city needs to do, a fee isn’t the right way to go about it. There is a place for fees in government, he said, but this isn’t it.
“Fees work when you can say, ‘I use less of this resource than someone else so I should get to pay less,’” he said.
With the storm water fee as it was presented, there was no ability for businesses or homeowners to opt out by making changes that would result in less storm water runoff coming from their property. There is a credit program built into the fee ordinance, but a property has to be able to contain all the storm water from a major storm on their property in order to be eligible. A grant program for homeowners and businesses was discussed and may be implemented in the future, but isn’t currently part of the fee ordinance.
Alongi said a tax increase would have been a better way of going about paying for storm water management. He also said there was very little support for the fee in the ward he represents.
“I think this is very thoughtful policy, but my constituents don’t support it, so I can’t support it,” he said.
Council Member Danna Elling Schultz said she sees the issue as an investment in the future of the city’s natural resources.
Slavik said about half of the money generated by the fee will go to things the city is already doing, like the staff time, equipment and maintenance that keep the storm water system running. The other half will go to things the city knows it will have to pay for in coming years, such as a new federal requirement that will force the city to reduce the amount of storm water runoff that gets into local waterways to 1988 levels, among other state and federal requirements.
Slavik said there are “peaks and valleys” from year to year when it comes to funding storm water management, and that the fee will help to level those off by building up a fund in the “valley” years to pay for the “peak” years when big-ticket purchases related to storm water need to be made.
Mayor Paul Hicks said since he was first elected to the council in 1990, the city has resisted the use of fees, and has opted instead to pay for things through property taxes and the general fund. He said today’s “economic reality” and the loss of state aid prompted the city to institute the fee, which is something he pointed out most other communities in the metro area already charge.
“We’re not one of the first; actually, we’re one of the last,” he said.
The fee is transparent, Hicks said, because everything it will go to pay for has been laid out by the Public Works Department, and since it’s dedicated, the money can’t go to fill other holes in the city budget. He said it will be reviewed each year during the budget process by the council’s Finance Committee and the council.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the first expenditure from the storm water fee fund was approved by the council. A levee on the Vermillion River near County Road 47 needs to be upgraded to meet Federal Emergency Management Agency standards, and the city will use $20,000 from the storm water fund to make the upgrades this summer.
A breakdown of the annual storm water fee rates
Low density residential (single-family homes) - $46.20 per lot
Medium density residential (townhomes) - $25.41 per lot
High density residential (apartment/condo buildings) - $180.18 per acre
Manufactured housing - $138.60 per acre
Commercial/office - $221.76 per acre
Industrial - $194.04 per acre
Public/institutional - Exempt
Golf course - $41.58 per acre
Open space/vacant - $46.20 per lot
Agricultural - $46.20 per lot