Hospital has yet to pay first cycle of city stormwater fees

Phoebe asked city to consider credits for earlier stormwater improvements

ALBANY — Its request for credits based on $858,000 in storm drainage improvements made in the area around the Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital campus in 2003 denied by the city of Albany, Phoebe Putney Health System has so far not paid the new stormwater fee on its Water, Gas & Light Commission utility bill, city officials confirmed this week.

The matter was to have been discussed at the Albany City Commission’s work session Tuesday morning, but it was taken off the agenda with no explanation. City Manager James Taylor said Thursday he has been contacted by Phoebe officials who have some questions about addresses on the hospital’s stormwater bills and that he expects the matter to be resolved.

“I’ve been contacted by Phoebe, and they assured me they were going to meet with (Engineering Director) Bruce (Maples) this week,” Taylor said.

But Maples said Thursday afternoon he has so far had no meeting with Phoebe officials.

“We’ve kind of been playing phone tag, but I have been contacted by Phoebe,” Maples said. “They want to go over the addresses of properties listed on their stormwater bill. I can’t say what their position might be, but it’s my hope that we get this worked out and they pay their fees going forward.”

Robert Griffin with the city’s Engineering/Civil Design department said Phoebe is not the only business that has not paid its fees during the first cycle of billing, which started in April, but he said he would rather wait until the businesses have been notified of their delinquency before revealing their names. The second WG&L billing cycle ends today. Griffin said the city’s collection rate for the new fee has actually been far better than expected.

“We were told by our consultant (Ecological Planning Group of Savannah) to expect an initial delinquency rate of around 15 percent,” Griffin said Thursday. “It’s early — we’ve only completed one billing cycle — but so far our delinquency rate is only around 4 percent. That’s certainly been encouraging.”

The stormwater fee, which will fund federally mandated stormwater improvements in Albany, is set at a rate of $2.50 per equivalent residential unit, that unit representing the square footage of an average Albany home with accompanying sidewalk and outbuildings. Large customers like Phoebe pay a rate based on the number of ERUs its various properties occupy.

City officials said Phoebe’s monthly rate is “somewhere close to $3,000” without credits.

Phoebe’s Robert Preston had asked the City Commission on March 18 to allow the hospital to use $858,000 in stormwater improvements it funded as credit toward its stormwater fees. Preston told officials then the hospital had approached the city in the late 1990s with concerns about poor storm drainage around the Phoebe campus in the aftermath of heavy rains, but city officials told the hospital there was no money for such improvements.

Around 2003, with Phoebe set to break ground on its new cancer center, the city worked out an agreement by which the hospital paid slightly less than $1 million for planned improvements otherwise financed through special-purpose local-option sales tax money.

City Attorney Nathan Davis said Wednesday he thought the Phoebe stormwater issue had been removed from the commission agenda Tuesday because it had been resolved. Davis had said after Preston’s March 18 request that while stormwater credits of up to 50 percent of total cost were being allowed, credits would be meted out based on established criteria written into the city’s stormwater ordinance. Past funding of such projects are not part of the criteria for receiving credits.

Ward I City Commissioner Jon Howard asked at the time of Preston’s request, “If we do this (for Phoebe), are there other entities out there that are going to make the same kinds of requests?”

Through a hospital spokesperson, Phoebe issued a statement Thursday afternoon that said, “In 2003, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital came to an arrangement with the city of Albany whereby Phoebe agreed to pay $858,000 to improve storm drainage in the Second Avenue Basin/Third Avenue Outfall stormwater improvement project . Based on the engineer’s calculations, the improvements that impacted the hospital were only 11 percent — 89 percent of the improvements were estimated to upgrade the surrounding area of the city’s drainage problems.

“In March of this year, Phoebe requested the City Commission consider a credit or adjustment taking into account some portion of the $858,000 investment made by the hospital toward the earlier project to be applied to the new monthly stormwater fees, which were about to be implemented April 2014. The matter was taken under consideration, but no further action was taken.

“Phoebe is no longer pursuing that specific course of action and is currently meeting with the city to clarify fees and billings.”