City Council keeps eye on stormwater plan budget

City Council keeps eye on stormwater plan budget

September 20th, 2010 by Cliff Hightower in Politics Local

Almost five months after the city lowered nonresidential rates for stormwater fees, some City Council members say they're keeping a watchful eye on the program's budget.

"I want to look at each year to see if conditions have changed," said Councilman Jack Benson.

The nonresidential rate for stormwater, or water quality, fees is scheduled to rise automatically - from $6.15 a month per equivalent residential unit to $7.25 cents a month - when property tax bills start going out in October.

The hike is part of Mayor Ron Littlefield's plan to ramp up the stormwater fee to the same as the residential rate within five years.

The City Council hiked the residential rate in April to $115.20 a year from $24 or $36. Nonresidential rates are based on the size of the facility compared to a home. Nonresidential users include businesses, churches and institutions such as schools.

Benson said he's not sure the fee needs to be raised just yet.

"That's the intent right now," he said. "Nothing has been approved that's irreversible."

Daisy Madison, the city's chief financial officer, said stormwater fees brought in $11.9 million last year and are predicted to bring in about $13.9 million this year. That's an increase of almost 19 percent.

Madison said the revenue is enough to hire more city employees to run the program, test streams and help build and maintain water drainage ditches.

"There's lots of projects out there," she said. "I don't think they [Department of Public Works] will have problems spending it."

Councilwoman Pam Ladd said the council needs to keep monitoring the fee.

"As far as I know, it's adequate enough for the projects we have this year," she said.

Federal and state regulators have cited problems with the city's water quality and sewer programs, mostly dealing with administrative procedures and testing.

The city is facing a possible joint directive from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation over the problems. Local leaders are worried about what they might be told to do.

"We still haven't gotten a final word," Councilwoman Carol Berz said. "It could be more is needed, it could be less. ... Nothing is set in stone."

Contact Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CliffHightower.