Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission at its March 7 meeting raised stormwater rates by 25% with a 3-1 vote to implement the city’s 2020 stormwater master plan.
Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers did not attend the March 7 meeting.
Commissioner Lesa Mayer cast the sole nay vote for raising the stormwater fees. She clarified that her vote was about due to concerns about “the cost to survive” and whether she supports the stormwater master plan or not.
“There are some in the community, and those tend to be the less vocal members of the community, who are struggling with even the smallest adjustments in expenses,” she said. “I wanted to ensure that we were advocating for them and looking out for their needs as well.”
Assistant City Manager David Junger said the city will need $38 million for implementing priority A and B projects over a 20-year period. The city believes that raising the fee will generate enough funds to implement the priority projects.
The city commission adopted a four-tier rate structure in March 2021 to implement the rate slowly and minimize the financial impact on property owners during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 stormwater fees were set 25% less than recommended in the stormwater master plan.
“This is exactly what we said we were going to do at this time last year,” City Manager Andrea Arnold said. “At this time last year, the plan said go to $285. We said that’s a really big jump in one year, especially considering where we were with COVID at that time.”
In 2021, the city commission agreed to phase the increase and come back in March 2022 when the city staff would make a recommendation for the full fee, which is what is needed to achieve these capital projects, Arnold added.
“Funding for these improvements is being raised equitably with the Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) fee system for commercial properties and a four-tier fee system for residential properties,” Junger said.
The equivalent residential unit system is based on the amount of impervious area on a property.
“The three primary factors that we considered in developing that type of tiered structure fee was the development of a more equitable residential ERU rate schedule, so the more impervious [area] you have, the more stormwater fee you would pay,” Junger said. “We also experienced an increase in the average amount of impervious area of single-family residential properties over the period.”
The tiers also align with the stormwater management requirements in the unified development ordinance, setting comparable thresholds for additional stormwater management requirements for single-family development and post-development stormwater utility fees, Junger wrote in a memo.
The city has already started implementing the first four priority projects and is in the planning and public engagement phase for those projects areas.
“These improvements are directed toward mitigating flooding, solving existing drainage problems, improving water quality and the quality of life in the neighborhoods,” Junger said. “That does align with the vision, policy and action items that were developed as part of the 2020 Decatur Strategic Plan: Climate Action for mitigating impacts and building a resilient environment.”
Commissioner Mayer raised concerns about the economic impact on residents amid rising prices in gas, groceries and other necessities and wondered if there is a way the city can help reduce the burden on property owners.
“These capital projects are incredibly important,” Mayer said. “I know that we need to get moving on the work for these projects. I also think there needs to be some consideration taken for what’s going on in the market, what people are paying for expenses outside of the home for essentials and be a little bit more nimble in the way that we set adjustments so that we can help support our community during what I still consider to be a very transitional time.”
Homeowners who are ages 80 and above, whose income is $40,000 or less, qualify for the senior homestead tax exemption for the school taxes. They would also qualify for an exemption for the city’s stormwater and sanitation fees. The residents who are granted the stormwater fee exemption, would only have to pay for the cost of the pay-as-you-throw bags, Finance Director Russ Madison said.
For more information or to apply for a homestead tax exemption, click here.
The city commission also increased the city’s sanitation fee from $300 to $305 per unit, which is anticipated to fully cover the cost of providing residential sanitation and recycling services.
The price of the pay-as-you-throw bags will increase as well, as plastic packaging costs are rising due to the instability of the global petroleum market, Junger wrote in a memo.
“Over the past six months, the city of Decatur has experienced a 33% price increase for the production of the PAYT bags due to the increased costs,” Junger wrote. “It is recommended that PAYT bag prices increase from $1.35 to $1.40 for the 33-gallon (blue) bag; $0.65 to $0.70 for the 15-gallon (yellow) bag; and, $0.38 to $0.40 for the 8-gallon (green) bag. The last time the prices for PAYT bags were increased was in 2007.”
The container fees for commercial properties will remain the same at $4.25 per cubic foot, and the charge for collecting 95-gallon carts will remain at $800 for one cart, once a week. The charge for collecting 3-cubic yard containers will increase from $1,200 to $1,210 for one container, once per week.
“That’s a container size that we continue to be challenged to charge the actual cost for providing the service,” Junger said during the meeting. “It tends to be a container that is only used in our downtown area, where access is limited. We don’t have enough of those types of carts to offset the true cost.”
The Decatur City Commission will meet next on Monday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m. for a regular meeting at Decatur City Hall, 509 N. McDonough Street, and via Zoom.
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