Albany’s new law setting up a storm water or rain tax utility is on the city council’s Monday work session agenda to be repealed. But even if it is repealed, it likely won’t be gone forever or for long.
The council adopted the ordinance in April. Tom Cordier, a retired resident of North Albany, promptly filed a referendum petition in hopes of forcing an election on the measure. He has gone to court to challenge the ballot title written for the measure by the city attorney’s office.
The ordinance creates the authority for collecting a fee from property owners to pay for repairing and operating the city’s storm drains, which all eventually take rainwater to the Willamette River. But the council plans to keep working on the details of the rainwater fee itself and then adopt the rate schedule in the fall.
Once there’s a pending ballot measure, under state law city employees can get in trouble for seemingly arguing for or against it. So, the repeal proposal reasons, it’s better to repeal the ordinance. Repeal makes the referendum moot because there’s nothing to refer, and this allows city staffers to freely discuss the rain tax details with the council and anyone else.
I asked Mayor Sharon Konopa about this late Friday. She told me by email: “Staff said since Cordier is wanting to stop the storm water utility by a petition initiative, we might as well repeal the ordinance until the fee is set and adopt both at the same time.”
Repeal now would save Cordier the trouble of trying to collect at least 2,900 signatures to get the ordinance on the ballot, but he would have to do so anyway later if he still wants an election once the rates are set.
Storm water work now is paid from the sewer and street funds. The city could continue to do so and raise sewer rates accordingly to meet any new requirements. But that would hit homeowners disproportionately hard because sewer charges are based on water consumption, while the rain tax would be based on the size of rain-collecting surfaces such as parking lots and roofs.
As it happens, also on Monday and not directly related to the storm water utility, the council will consider a sewer rate hike, which the city staff recommends be 3 percent. The Albany council’s Monday work session will be held in the City Hall council chambers starting at 4 p.m. (hh)