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Staff file photo / Traffic up Signal Mountain Boulevard encounters streams of water across the roadway during heavy rains in this file photo. The town of Signal Mountain plans to double its stormwater fee to cover the costs of infrastructure repairs.

On the heels of a 15% water rate increase that went into effect Aug. 1, the town of Signal Mountain plans to more than double its annual stormwater fee to help cover the cost of unanticipated infrastructure repairs.

The water rate increase is the second of three annual 15% rate increases recommended by the University of Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service, which conducted a water rate study for the town when the council was deciding whether to sell or retain ownership of its municipal water system. The first of those increases went into effect in July 2019.

Veal said the funds from the water rate increases will cover the cost of several necessary water system infrastructure projects, including some unanticipated projects such as the water line relocation on Sunset Drive.

The increase in the annual stormwater fee is also a recommendation made by MTAS, which conducted a study of the town's stormwater program and the revenue it would require at the town's request.

The study was based on a prioritized list of projects provided by the town, with projects ranging from minor issues to major fixes that need immediate attention.

"There is a considerable list of projects that need to be addressed," said town Manager Boyd Veal, adding that how pressing the need is for individual projects can vary from storm to storm.

He said the situation that happened on Jane Cove Road, where a drainage culvert unexpectedly washed away earlier this year, is one example of a problem in which a single rain event could have taken out an entire section of road.

The town plans to spend a portion of the funds from the stormwater fee increase for a new street sweeper, the $60,000 cost of which will be paid over the next five years. Veal said the street sweeper used now is not very effective, and many of the town's stormwater issues are caused by clogged storm drains that then cause further issues downstream.

The minimum annual stormwater fee would increase from $39.60 to $84.90, and the cost per square foot of impervious surface would go from $0.0165 to $0.0354, Veal said.

Since certain factors — such as whether a homeowner's driveway is paved or gravel, or whether a property includes a large patio or pool — could cause wide variations in fees for homes of similar size, he said it would be difficult to give an average dollar amount that fees will rise.

"I think one of the things that was complicated and made it harder to explain what was happening with water [rate increases] was we talked in terms of percentages rather than actual costs," Mayor Dan Landrum said, before asking Veal to provide a variety of examples of what the dollar amount of the increase would be for different properties before the stormwater fee increase ordinance goes before the council.

The council is expected to take its first vote on the ordinance at its Sept. 28 meeting.

Customers of the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority, which serves a small percentage of the town of Signal Mountain, will also see a 12% sewer rate increase effective Oct. 1, added Veal, who is a member of the authority's board.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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