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St. Marys Council tables stormwater utility proposal, wants better plan from city manager

St. Marys Council tables a proposal on stormwater management

St. Marys Council tables a stormwater utility plan and a $50,000 consultant proposal by the city manager on Monday. The Council discussed creating a new utility to help manage the city’s stormwater and drainage issues.  

However, the proposal submitted by the city manager to review and study the city’s stormwater utility plan was tabled because the council felt the city taxpayers would be paying for work already completed.

The city has been considering the new utility since 2015, but they have not decided upon how to implement the utility as the city looks to create a new stormwater management plan.

According to city documents,  the new utility would improve the city’s Community Rating System related to the city’s national flood insurance program.

City Manager John Holman asked the council to approve a $50,000 consulting contract with a well-known firm, Environmental Planning Group, to study the city’s stormwater issues which would include studying the city’s imperviable surfaces. As part of the of the $50,000, about $17,200 would be used to study how many imperviable surfaces, such as parking lots or driveways, are in the city.

That study would then set up a formula of how to create a stormwater utility charge on the residents to manage to create an enterprise specifically used to mitigate stormwater and drainage concerns all over the city.  

The first part of the study would be to review the current drainage issues and then update the stormwater master plan. The proposed plan would be finished by January 2019 – 18 months; however, the council wants the plan completed much sooner.

Council members Nutter, Powierski, and Reilly wanted the city manager to utilize the city staff, particularly the city’s  Geographic Information System staff. The council also wants to use the 2008 stormwater management plan framework instead of hiring more consultants to start the process from the beginning.

“The current stormwater management plan provides a framework at the present and I do not think we need to spend money on updating that at the present time, “ said Nutter.  “We need to sharpen the pencil a little bit.”

Nutter suggested that the city manager send a staff person to Athens or other municipalities that have similar plans of how the measure their rooftops and driveways to create their stormwater utility plan.

“I see the word study; I see the word $50,000 dollars, I think there is work we can do here with staff time that we are going to be paying EPG to re-create. I don’t think that is worth $35,000,” said Nutter.

Councilwoman Linda Williams was against the proposal from the city manager as it did not consider the form-based zoning codes which have received a lot of concern from the citizens related to stormwater runoff.

Councilwoman Elaine Powierski felt the plan did not have a community stakeholder outreach aspect to the proposal and would like to see that component in the proposal.

The council wanted to have a work session to review a different proposal including the city’s staff and current stormwater management plan.

What is a stormwater utility fund or stormwater enterprise fund? 

A stormwater user fee, a stormwater utility, is primarily a revenue-generating program that allows municipalities to better manage stormwater drainage. This is accomplished by creating a separate fund used specifically for stormwater management and creating financial incentive to address issues associated with stormwater.

Similar to a water or sewer user fee, a stormwater fund generates revenue through user fees that charge the property owner based on the impact their property has on the stormwater system. The St. Marys City Council will be reviewing the number of paved services throughout the city to determine a rate.

Stormwater funds can also be drivers for physical change by allowing property owners to reduce their fees by reducing impervious cover (surfaces that don’t absorb precipitation, such as roofs, driveways and parking lots) or apply for credits for managing stormwater on-site.

A stormwater utility is an enterprise fund and is subject to annual budget review by the City Council. Collected fees from the fund are kept in a separate account that does not commingle with other municipal funds. This not only helps municipalities to understand what they actually spend on programs but also increases accountability and responsiveness. The revenue from the fund can only be used on stormwater-related issues and cannot be transferred to other funds for spending.

Jeremy Spencer grew up in rural South Georgia and has served as a healthcare provider, high school science teacher, school administrator, and state education official. Jeremy is currently the market and content manager for All on Georgia-Camden and Glynn Counties. Jeremy’s focus is local news, statewide education issues, and statewide political commentary for the All on Georgia News Network. Jeremy has served as an education policy analyst for local legislators and state education leaders as well as a campaign strategist for local and statewide political campaigns. Jeremy holds degrees in science and education from the University of Georgia, Piedmont College, and Valdosta State University. Jeremy has lived in Camden County for over 17 years.

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