By CARL SMITH
The Starkville Board of Aldermen will consider adopting storm sewer fees Tuesday to help fund current drainage projects and keep pace with future needs.
If passed, the city would impose a monthly $2.50 fee “upon each family occupying a house, an apartment or mobile home” and a monthly $5 fee “upon each commercial retail, wholesale establishment and store buildings ... including industrial establishments.” Delinquent accounts under the proposed system would receive a $7 charge after 20 days without payment.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman says additional revenue is needed to complete 22 current storm sewer projects and those which develop as the city grows. The fee will generate an estimated $400,000 annually for such projects. Heavy rain events last spring highlighted the need for drainage projects, Wiseman said.
“Of those 22 projects that make up our current program, only 19 of them are smaller expenditures. Those projects range from a few thousand dollars to $250,000. Added up, the projects represent an estimated $1 million in cost,” he said. “Then there are three major projects the city needs to complete: Carver Drive, Maple Drive and Colonial Hills. Those projects will cost a combined $1.4-1.7 million alone.”
Without additional funding, the city’s estimated 10-year budget for storm sewer projects is $1.4 million. Using those figures, Wiseman said the city would have to decide between completing the three main projects or the 19 less-costly plans.
“As the city continues to evolve and grow in that 10-year period, you’re going to add additional needs to the storm sewer system,” Wiseman said. “This is a quality of life project. One of the things that makes this a difficult issue is that everybody doesn’t deal with the problems brought about by the system. Only those in close contact see the erosion and flooding problems, but everybody contributes to the runoff. If you have a roof over your head, that roof is not allowing rainfall to be absorbed by the ground. It then has to be processed by our system.”
The additional revenue would allow the city to finance the three major projects over a 10-year period, Wiseman said, and use the remainder of the operating budget to complete the 19 minor projects in a five-year window.
“If you recognize that the list (of projects) is going to constantly evolve and that we’ll be constantly discovering new projects in need of maintenance, I believe (the fee) puts the city in a position where we’ll have the necessary revenue going forward to effectively address our storm sewer needs.
“If we get to the end of that five-year period and see we are not experiencing any new major breakdowns to the same extent, we could scale the fee down,” he added. “The board is always the ultimate authority as to what the rate structure would need to be and it can always modify that fee.”
Wiseman said more and more municipalities across the nation are developing storm sewer fees because of Environmental Protection Agency mandates for polluted runoff. Mandates for municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) were issued in two phases in the ’90s. Phase one, issued in 1990, set pollution discharge standards for large populations, while 1999’s phase two regulates small MS4s in urbanized areas.
“(The EPA has) placed that mandate on additional municipalities that may not be major metropolitan areas but still have substantial population,” Wiseman said. “Cities the size of Starkville are likely to be added to the next set of municipalities under the mandate. Keeping our storm sewer system maintained keeps us ahead of the curve.”
Wiseman said he was unsure of any other cities with storm sewer utility fee programs in the state. A report from City Attorney Chris Latimer, Wiseman said, states the utility program is legal according to Mississippi law.
“As for feedback, I’ve heard some mixed responses so far,” Wiseman said. “I think there’s a general recognition we have a funding shortfall. Heavy rain events certainly do highlight the weakness in our storm sewer system — as long as it doesn’t rain, you don’t see the problem or have those issues. We need to approach this funding problem now before we see more of those issues.”