A stormwater management system recently described by outside consultants as “not funded particularly well in recent years” did not perform particularly well during a recent downpour.
That’s the word stormwater consultants Jean Haggerty and Brian Merritt of AMEC Environmental & Infrastructure recently delivered to both Meadville City Council and members of the city’s Stormwater Stakeholder Advisory Committee before laying out a plan for updating the system to both satisfy state regulators and keep the city a drier place to live and work — complete with preliminary estimates of how much it will probably cost and recommendations on who might pay.
Unfortunately, the amount of rain that fell that day didn’t even come close to setting a modern record.
On June 1, the City of Meadville received approximately an inch of rain during the early-morning hours. Later that afternoon, Meadville Area Sewer Authority’s rain gauge recorded a 3/4-inch rainfall during a 25-minute period. “Around 5 p.m., all hell had broken loose,” City Manager Joe Chriest recently reported to members of Meadville City Council and representatives of the city’s Stormwater Stakeholder Advisory Committee. On streets running east-west, for example, water was running an inch to an inch and a half deep over the crown at the center of the roadway and roaring down both sides, Chriest continued. At Randolph Street, manhole covers were starting to dance from the upward force of the water below. Throughout the city, Chriest and Assistant City Manager Andy Walker recorded video footage of vehicles churning up wake patterns while making their way along thoroughly-flooded roadways.
According to National Weather Service in Cleveland, however, the June 1 downfall wasn’t all that big a deal. In fact, a search through data collected only since 1998 revealed that the 1.83 inches registered June 1 at Port Meadville Airport was only the 14th heaviest rainfall recorded during a 24-hour period during the past 14 years. More than twice that amount — 3.76 inches, to be exact — fell on Sept. 8, 2004, followed by 3.3 inches July 12, 2004; 3.09 inches July 21, 2003; 2.93 inches July 22, 2006; and 2.28 inches Sept. 29, 1999.
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In its 2011 Stormwater Ordinance, the city defined “impervious” as “a surface that prevents the infiltration of water into the ground. Impervious surface (or areas) include, but is not limited to: Roofs, additional indoor living spaces, patios, garages, storage sheds and similar structures, parking or driveway areas, and any new streets and sidewalks. Any surface areas proposed to initially be gravel or crushed stone shall be assumed to be impervious surfaces.”
Based on a detailed Geographic Information System analysis of more than 200 single family detached residential properties combining aerial imagery and infrared data obtained during April fly-overs of the city as well as land use codes and the current tax database, the AMEC team determined that the city’s median (50 percent are larger and 50 percent smaller) Equivalent Residential Unit contains 2,660 square feet of impervious area contributing to runoff into the city’s stormwater system.
At that point, the definition of a single Billing Unit was set at 2,660 square feet of impervious area.
The consultants recommend that each single-family residential unit within the city, regardless of actual size, be billed as one Billing Unit. At the present time, the monthly fee under consideration is in the range of $6 to $8, or $72 to $96 per year, for every single-family residence in the city.
The consultants then turned their attention to non-single family detached properties, calculating the number of square feet of impervious area on each individual property based on digitized data collected during April’s fly-overs.
Final results are still being refined. However, with each single-family residence counting as one ERU and including every piece of property regardless of its current tax status, the current estimate puts the number of ERUs within city limits at 9,690. Using a base calculation of $89.40 per ERU as the approximate cost of making necessary short- and long-term improvements to the system, a fee-based system billed at $89.40 would generate $866,286 annually. Generating the same income via a property-tax increase would require a tax hike of 3.05 mills on all properties currently on the tax rolls. One mill equals $1 for each $1,000 of a property’s assessed value.
How fee-versus-tax breaks down in the win-loss column for properties currently paying property taxes varies, literally, depending on the layout of the land, although a fee-based system somewhat similar to Meadville’s water or sewer authorities, which bill based on use of their systems, would spread the burden among all owners of developed property within city limits.
The six-story Professional Building on Chestnut Street, for example, with a relatively small footprint and an assessed value of $192,650 for tax purposes, contains only 5,150 square feet — two ERUs — of impervious surface. The fee for that structure would be $178.80 per year, while a tax hike would boost the owner’s property tax bill by $587.58.
With an assessed value of $343,250, the single-story Downtown Mall would be looking at a tax increase of $1,046.91; with 35 ERUs of impermeable surfaces, including lots of paved parking lot, the annual stormwater fee would be $3,129.
With approximately 204 ERUs spread over 40 city-owned properties that are currently tax exempt, the city itself would be responsible for contributing $18,237.60 to its own stormwater management budget if a fee-based structure is imposed.
According to Walker, who heads the city’s stormwater project, “Council is interested in a program where everyone pays their fair share of the stormwater burden. ‘Everyone’ includes all property owners, residential and commercial alike, and all tax-exempt non-profits including Allegheny College, Meadville Medical Center, churches, social service agencies, schools and city-county-state government facilities. Under this program and method, even the City of Meadville will have to pay its own fee for the buildings, parks and parking lots it owns that contribute stormwater to the city’s system.”
The next step in the process will involve discussion of allowing credits for instituting best-management stormwater practices. Community outreach on the part of the city to explain the plan and meetings with the city’s top potential rate payers are also expected to take place over the summer.
By August or September, a final ordinance is expected to be in place for council’s final consideration, followed by adoption and implementation of the new plan by October.