City considering new method to determine storm water fee

New proposal to be a part of annual budget negotiations

The city is considering a new method for determining how much property owners pay in storm water utility fees, officials said Wednesday.

The fee, which is currently based on land use and property size, is used to pay for the maintenance of the city's storm water sewer system.

The new method would be based on a property's impervious cover.

"The person with the smaller parcel with a small impervious (cover) may probably see their fee go down below where it's at today," said Anthony Chukwudolue, assistant director of the Transportation and Capital Improvements Department.

Owners of property with large amounts of impervious cover could see their fees go significantly up Chukwudolue said.

According to the city, impervious cover is any area that has been compacted or covered such that it does not readily absorb water or does not allow water to percolate through to underlying soil.

Under the city's definition, impervious materials include but are not limited to bricks, concrete, asphalt, gravel and pavers.

The city is currently conducting a study to assess the impact of changing the methodology. Chukwudolue said the move is about fairness, since land with a large amount of impervious cover contributes more water runoff than smaller parcels of land.

"If you have a system that is driven by the amount of runoff from a site, then it is imperative that you have a mechanism to assign the cost to the person who's contributing a greater portion," Chukwudolue said.

The city has raised the storm water utility fee six times since it was established in 1993. The latest increase was in 2008.

Fifty-five of 91 municipalities in Texas, including Houston, Austin, Ft. Worth, Amarillo and El Paso, use the impervious cover method to determine storm water utility fees.

If the fee structure changed, Chukwudolue said the city would only use additional revenue to pay for the rising cost of maintaining the city's storm water sewer system.

Maintenance also includes street sweeping and vegetation maintenance along city corridors.

City staff will be reaching out to the public to alert people of the potential changes, which Chukuwudolue said has already generated pushback from the business community.

Councilman Ron Nirenberg called the move a "sea change," but believes any change would have to be implemented carefully.

"Basing the fee on impact to the storm water system is logical, but we have to make sure we implement it the right way," said Nirenberg, who represents District 8.

Officials believe the move also incentivizes the use of low-impact development features on new property to improve water quality and quantity.

Chukwudolue said the department hopes to have the study done in time to include the proposal in budget negotiations later this year.