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City’s nonbinding vote OKs stormwater plan

Chehaw Park Executive Director Doug Porter, left, and Chehaw Park Authority Board Chairman Scott Kemp ask Albany City Commissioners Tuesday to continue allocating $1 million a year in funding for the park for the next five years. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Chehaw Park Executive Director Doug Porter, left, and Chehaw Park Authority Board Chairman Scott Kemp ask Albany City Commissioners Tuesday to continue allocating $1 million a year in funding for the park for the next five years. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — The Albany City Commission tentatively approved Phase III of a sweeping stormwater management plan Tuesday morning, the final step before citywide fees are set for a federally mandated compliance program that will separate storm runoff and solid wastewater in the city.

All city entities — residential, commercial and nonprofits — will be required to pay their share of the 85,000 equivalent residential units (ERUs) designated by city staff. But, as Public Works Director Bob Roberson pointed out during a presentation to the commission at its work session, credits of up to 50 percent of cost per ERU (expected to be around $5.89 per unit) can be realized by the owner of each unit.

“We’re projecting around $6 million (annually) in revenue for the stormwater program, but we’re assuming as much as 20 percent of that will be taken up through credits,” Roberson said. “We’re happy to offer credits to businesses and residents. We want to partner with them. Because as we’ve seen, particularly over the last three months, every gallon of water we keep out of our sewer system has an impact.”

Roberson said the city faces up to $50,000 in daily fines under the federal Clean Water Act if it doesn’t comply with the storm/wastewater mandate.

“Our approach is to avoid punitive fines by staying ahead of the curve,” Roberson said.

Phase I of the city’s stormwater management plan kicked off in August of 2007 when federal officials first proposed mandatory sanitary sewer and stormwater separation. That phase, which included a study of the city’s needs, was followed by Phase II in September of 2012. The second phase included development of a service delivery plan and stakeholder information.

Now comes Phase III, which includes customer outreach. That means selling a new fee to the public.

“No one’s excited about paying another fee, but when we talk with our citizens about what we’re trying to do, most of them understand,” City Engineer Bruce Maples said. “Albanians are looking to us to solve a serious (flooding) problem, and this is a step in that direction. Plus, everyone in the city will pay their fair share.”

Roberson said city staff and the Savannah-based Ecological Planning Group will, if the commission approves the management plan at its night meeting next week, work to get a “bulletproof” plan in place by the end of the year.

“Come December, we’re going to ask this table to set rates (for the stormwater fees),” the Public Works director said. “We expect the cost to go up only a couple of dollars per unit, and since this is a user fee, everyone will pay. When we’re ready to go, we want to make sure we have a bulletproof system in place.”

The commission also passed a non-binding vote to allocate $1 million in funding for Chehaw Park next year and then reduce that amount by 3 percent for the four years after that. Chehaw Executive Director Doug Porter had asked the commission to continue allocating funds at $1 million a year for each of the next five years, but Commissioner Ivey Hines recommended approving funding with the decreases.

Commissioner Tommie Postell, who is on the Chehaw Park Authority, asked if Hines would accept an amendment to increase the funding to the full $1 million, but Hines refused. The measure passed 6-1 with Postell voting against.

The commission’s day started with a special called meeting at which commissioners were asked to award the $500,000 in available Housing and Urban Development Home Investment Partnership funds to Certified Community Housing Development Organization Mt. Olive Community Outreach Center Inc.

The funding, which represents 15 percent of HOME dollars allocated by HUD since 2007, had originally been approved for use by Albany AME Bethel Housing LP, one of three certified CHDOs that applied for use of the funds. Bethel Housing was to use the $500,000 for acquisition and rehabilitation of a 98-unit affordable housing complex, but city Community and Economic Development Director Shelena Hawkins said the city was not able to reach a suitable contract agreement with Bethel.

The commission approved Mt. Olive’s request to use the funding to rehabilitate up to 20 units in St. John’s Estate, located in East Albany.

After commissioners Postell, Ivey Hines and Roger Marietta questioned staff about the wisdom of granting Dougherty County’s request to allow a sanitary sewer extension for the Stonebridge Golf Villas development, as required by city ordinance, the commission voted 5-1-1 to approve the request. Maples explained that the developer and county would pay all costs to extend the sewer by 3,054 linear feet of 8-inch pipe.

“I read that the county just put $3 million in their fund balance,” Postell said. “Why are they coming to us for help?” Told that the county, by ordinance, had to get the city’s permission to extend the sewer for the development, Postell said, “I believe in helping my neighbor, but not if I can’t help myself.”

Commissioner Christopher Pike pointed out: “I’d like to remind everyone that sanitary sewer is a city enterprise fund and one of the few ways we actually make money. And, remember, we live in the county, too.”