Rain tax: A hint on its likely size

All that rain has to go somewhere, and Albany is preparing to charge a fee to dispose of it.

All that rain has to go somewhere, and Albany is preparing to charge a fee to dispose of it.

Still no word on what Albany’s proposed rain tax will cost you when – not if – it starts being collected, probably starting next spring. No definite word, at least, but an unauthorized hint based on arithmetic alone.

The city council Monday heard a preliminary estimate that Albany’s storm water utility would cost about $3 million a year. The city already spends $1.3 million a year on its storm drains. The money comes out of the street and sewer funds. So if it wanted to continue using those sources of funding, it would need to collect another $1.7 million in proposed storm water utility fees. Or if the council decides to try to collect the entire amount in new fees, both the street and the sewer programs could keep the current storm water allocation and get more done.

Mark Yeager, the top utility expert in Public Works, patiently took the council through the steps used to develop an estimate of what the new drainage utility would cost. He stressed the city should start small, do only the minimum required under an expected new storm water permit from the state, and make a modest start in repairing the existing drainage system of 128 miles of pipes, 2,300 manholes, 4,200 catch basins and 100 storm water quality features.

Yeager cautioned me against making wild assumptions about how the overcall cost would end up being proportioned among Albany’s 17,500 water and sewer customers. None of the important factors have yet been nailed down. How to charge small medium and large residential lots, or non-residential properties that usually have more impervious surface? Will the council want to reduce sewer and street funding to reflect the storm water money now coming out of those funds, or free up the money for street and sewer projects. Or even reduce sewer rates? And so forth.

Despite Yeager’s prudent admonitions, here’s the arithmetic. If the council accepts the $3 million storm water budget and wants to collect it all in fees, that’s an average of $171 per year or $14 per month per customer regardless of size. If the council wants to collect only the additional $1.7 million, the average would be $97 a year or $8 per month.

But since the rain tax will be larger on big properties with big roofs and parking lots, the fee per home will obviously be less than the average.

On Wednesday the council will adopt an ordinance creating the utility and saying that the new fees be constructed so they don’t qualify as an actual tax subject the constitutional limits. The rates will be set later. The first hint of what they might look like will come when the council takes up the topic again on May 9. (hh)

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