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The City Council voted 7-1 Tuesday night to effectively slash the water quality budget and give relief to nonresidential users.

"The main thing was to give some relief," Council Chairman Manny Rico said. "And we did that."

Nonresidential users include businesses, churches and institutions such as schools.

The new rate stays the same for Chattanooga residences at $115.20 a year, or $9.60 a month. The nonresidential rate goes from $9.60 a month to $6.15 a month per equivalent residential unit, which is based on the size of the facility when compared to residential houses.

Councilwoman Deborah Scott voted against the measure and Mr. Rico did not vote.

Mrs. Scott said after the meeting that she voted against slashing the budget for water quality, also called stormwater, because she feels that too small a pot of taxpayers are bearing the brunt of the fees.

The ordinance approved Tuesday includes a credit that would take a maximum of 65 percent off the stormwater bill for qualified nonresidential users.

That credit and the fact that those who live next to "waters of the state" are exempt means those left outside of such cuts must pay for the costs of the program and any potential future costs, Mrs. Scott said.

"I think the slack will be taken up by the property owners left over," she said.

The water quality fee has been debated heavily for months since the council approved hiking the rate in October from $24 or $36 a year for residences up to $115.20 a year. Businesses, churches and institutions can pay even more because they qualify as multiple residences.

On a first reading of the resolution six weeks ago, the council approved 6-3 to slash the water quality budget by more than $10 million. The new rates slash the budget from $21.5 million a year to $11.7 million a year.

WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU

The City Council changed the water quality fees Tuesday night, which effectively means there are two separate payers.

* Residential: Rate rises from $24 or $36 a year to $115.20 a year, or $9.60 a month

Nonresidential: Rate goes to $6.15 a month per equivalent residential unit, based on impervious surface

Source: Chattanooga

The city waited six weeks to vote on a final reading because any changes in water quality fees must be advertised 30 days in advance.

Steve Leach, administrator for the Department of Public Works, said after the meeting that the department is already putting together the budget for next fiscal year, which ends June 30. The budget has been effectively on hold until Public Works knew how much money it would have, he said.

Public Works officials now will begin moving forward with their revamped water quality program, he said.

"We're trying to hire staff and we've got projects we're working on," he said.

Follow Cliff Hightower on Twitter at twitter.com/cliffhightower

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Contractual issue remains separate, city officials say

Article: Runoff raises concern

Times Editorial: A fix for the stormwater fee?

Article: Council approves slashing stormwater budget

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