Courtney Reich, the president of consulting firm Ecological Planning Group, addresses a small group of mostly Albany and Dougherty County officials at a stormwater management open house Thursday at the downtown Government Center. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — While public interest at a hearing held Thursday to discuss the city’s development of a stormwater management program and a stormwater utility was all but nonexistent, city officials say it was important to offer the educational opportunity before the rollout of stormwater billing on April 1.
“We’re putting handouts in (utility) bills and we’ve held an educational meeting for some of the top users in the city, so we’re getting the word out,” Albany Public Works Director Phil Roberson said Friday. “We’re certainly open to doing more events like (Thursday’s public hearing); certainly we expect to do one after the first bills go out in April.”
Consultant Courtney Reich, the president of Savannah-based Ecological Planning Group, which is assisting the city with the program development, said a stormwater management program is a mandate from the state Environmental Protection Division and is also necessary to help the city update its aging infrastructure.
“The city of Albany is an older city, and many components of your infrastructure are older and in need of resources to address maintenance, repairs and replacement,” Reich said. “The creation of a storm utility is the most equitable way to address those needs. It’s a program in which every user pays a fair share.”
In addition to funding for 22 major capital projects designed to improve the city’s increasingly antiquated stormwater system, funds from the user fee will be utilized for maintenance and equipment purchases.
“All of the funds from this utility will be used for stormwater maintenance and upgrades and for capital improvements,” Roberson said. “It’s an opportunity for us to make necessary improvements.”
Reich noted in a slide presentation that the city currently utilizes 20,000 storm structures to maintain 550 miles of streets, 330 miles of sewer pipes, 12,000 drainage inlets, 10,000 drainage structures, 200 miles of ditches, 100 holding ponds and 20-plus storm stations.
“As you build more rooftops, parking lots and driveways, there’s less and less room left for (stormwater) absorption,” she said. “And when you don’t manage your stormwater, your (storm) system deteriorates, your water quality decreases and your system is blocked, leading to flooding.”
The city, with assistance from Ecological Planning Group, has determined the size of Equivalent Residential Units based on the median size of single-family residences in the community. Each unit of 2,700 square feet is recognized as a “billing unit” and takes into account the amount of impervious area associated with structures’ rooftops, driveways and sidewalks. Single-family residents will be billed a monthly $2.50 fee, while larger structures (businesses, multiple-family residences, schools and other nonprofit agencies) will pay a rate based on the number of ERUs associated with each, which was determined by aerial photography and GIS mapping.
For instance, a multi-family structure with 21,600 square feet of impervious space would equal eight ERUs (21,600 square feet divided by 2,700 square feet) and be billed $20 per month.
“It’s important to point out that businesses and residential users can earn credits that will lower their monthly bill,” Reich said. “But no one will get 100 percent credit because everyone receives some benefit from this service.”
The $2.50 per ERU fee is second-lowest among the 50 stormwater utilities in the state. With roughly 84,000 ERUs identified on structures citywide, the fee is expected to generate some $2 million annually.
“We initially did a zero-based budget and came up with a $5.89 (per ERU) monthly fee,” Roberson said. “But when we got down to looking at parcel-specific costs, we realized there could be an adverse economic impact on some of the larger users. So we decided on a balancing act, one that took into account needs and ability to pay.”
Reich said that failure to create a stormwater management program could lead to fines of up to $50,000 per day per violation, loss of eligibility for state funding, withdrawal of water permits and loss of qualified local government status.
Information about the stormwater management program and utility is available on the city’s website, www.albany.ga.us.