Hamilton County Schools is the only government agency that has been paying its bill to reduce and purify stormwater that runs off its property.
An independent committee thinks the system should be rewarded.
County, state and federal government entities have been stiffing the city since 1993 for the service, but the school system faithfully has paid about $2 million, said Mike Price, a local civil engineer and a member of a committee created to look at the city's water quality fees.
"If they've been paying all this time and no one else has from the governmental side, they needed to have the ability to spend money on their own programs," he said. "They could have done like everybody else and said, 'Forget it, we're not going to pay these fees.'"
So as a sort of a reward, the committee has proposed that the school system be allowed to use the money it has been spending on fees -- about $115,000 annually -- to improve its own stormwater facilities at the nearly 40 schools inside Chattanooga city limits.
Gary Waters, the school system's assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, said the money likely would go for projects such as detention ponds that would slow down the runoff process, or wetland habitats that would filter and purify the water.
"Anything we can do to improve the water quality of what comes off our property into the city system," he said.
Mr. Price said that, in addition to purifying the water, the school district's capital improvements also would be aimed at reducing the total amount of stormwater runoff.
Once buildings are constructed, a plot of land no longer soaks up as much rainwater as it would if it were just grass and forest, Mr. Price said. As a result, streams flood more frequently and storm pipes are overworked.
The committee already has approved the concept of crediting the school system, but still must hammer out the details, Mr. Price said.
On Thursday, the committee will present its final budget proposal for the water quality program to the City Council, which will vote March 3 on whether to approve it, Mr. Price said.
Lee Norris, the city's assistant director of public works, said the cost-benefit ratio for the city must be considered, as well as whether proposed changes would put too much strain on the city.
The water quality fee became controversial late last year after the City Council approved raising it from $36 to $115.20 a year for residences and even higher for businesses.
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