A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Rain and tax talk arrive together

Written November 7th, 2015 by Hasso Hering
One of the newer ones among Albany's  2,200 stormwater manholes.

One of the newer ones among Albany’s 2,200 stormwater manholes.

The rainy season has started and, as though on cue, the Albany City Council is taking up consideration of a tax on rain. But before such an added tax is enacted, second thoughts are in order.

The council is being asked to consider a “stormwater user fee,” a misleading term since it implies that people would be charged for using rainwater. The opposite is the case. They would be taxed for getting rid of rainwater.

What we’re talking about is a tax to pay for repairing, maintaining and improving the city’s storm drains and also to meet new rules handed down by the state. The issue is on the agenda when the council meets for a work session at 4 p.m Monday, Nov. 9, at City Hall.

The council has had four briefings from the public works staff this year on the city’s stormwater drainage system — 128 miles of underground pipes, 4,000 catch basins and inlets, 2,200 stormwater manholes, and 76 “stormwater quality” facilities such as swales, not to mention 70 miles of ditches and channels. The whole system except the swales is designed to channel rainwater to the Willamette River.

The staff is telling the council that if it decides to go ahead with a stormwater user fee, it may take up to two years to develop the fee and put it in place. Why so long? Because it’s complicated.

In places that have a rain tax, such as Salem, the amount of the monthly amount added to the water/sewer bill varies with the amount of hard surface of each property. A single-family home in Salem will pay an extra $15-$18 per month once the fee is fully implemented in 2016. Bigger properties pay more. In a Salem comparison of stormwater charges per 100,000 square feet of impervious surface (like a supermarket roof or parking lot), the monthly charges range from $134 in Keizer and $199 in Corvallis to $435 in Eugene and $1,055 in Portland. We’re talking real money here.

The Albany staff has told the council that the city’s expenses for dealing with runoff will increase when, in 2016, the Department of Environmental Quality, acting on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, will require the city to take out a permit for its discharge of stormwater. And if permit requirements are not met, the city may be fined.

Citizens ought to question these increasingly costly requirements. What is their benefit? Salmon and other species in the Willamette system seem to be doing all right, judging by fish counts at Foster and elsewhere. So what’s the point of hitting the population with higher costs? And for the city, how wise is it to improve perfectly functional rural roads such as Crocker Lane in North Albany when doing so entails more rules and higher costs? Those roadside ditches have been handling runoff on their own, without any significant public cost, since the road was built decades ago. (hh)

35 responses to “Rain and tax talk arrive together”

  1. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Until/if/when we can influence the DEQ & EPA, we’ll bear the brunt of their mandates. It’s fun tilting at windmills sometimes…

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but neither the state or the feds are mandating that the city impose a rain tax.

      So tell us Ray, why is the city’s first option an oppressive tax? What other funding options were investigated?

      Would revenue from a rain tax flow into the general fund? If that is the plan, would you support referring a rain tax to the voters so they have the final voice?

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    For goodness sakes, taxing us for the rain that falls on our property? How did we get to a place where government has the power to take our money for what falls from the sky?

    Will we have the freedom to capture and use the “stormwater” ourselves? Or will the city impose its ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ rule and fine us?

    The City Manager must feel like he’s struck gold. Our Mayor is probably doing the rain dance at City Hall.

    In the end, it is all about the money. Next up – tax the air that we breathe.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      “why is the city’s first option an oppressive tax?”

      It’s but one option being looked in order to comply with mandated DEQ/EPA regulations:
      “…the city’s expenses for dealing with runoff will increase when, in 2016, the Department of Environmental Quality, acting on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, will require the city to take out a permit for its discharge of stormwater. And if permit requirements are not met, the city may be fined.”

      Doing nothing is not an option – period. A couple of reports you might want to look at as they address stormwater:



      • Gordon L. Shadle says:

        Ray, thanks for the info. But I’m still a little confused. Every wastewater rate payer has a stormwater fee incorporated into their water/sewer bill. That is how the current cost of stormwater discharge is funded, correct? If yes, will each rate payer see a corresponding decrease in their water/sewer bill if the rain tax is imposed as a separate charge? In other words, will my water/sewer bill go down?

        And like I mentioned below, if those of us who already paid a SDC for stormwater discharge, is it fair to now charge us a second time through a monthly rain tax?
        The city has already recovered the cost of stormwater services from me through the SDC. Why should I pay twice?

        • Bob Woods says:

          So if you paid an SDC fees, please post the exact amounts from your receipt, including processing fees, date of issue and person who signed off on the payment.

          YOU never paid an SDC Water or Sewer or Storm water fee on your house Gordon. If you did, prove it with actual documentation.

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          What I received from city staff. (And I’ll bet there will be more forthcoming as we have this afternoons’ meeting and multiple more going forward)

          “Currently, the limited stormwater activities that we do are covered with street and sewer funds. If Council were to create a stormwater utility they could consider reflecting the reduction in the sewer utility when evaluating future rates.

          However, depending on Council direction, a property wouldn’t likely see a one-to-one reduction for a few reasons:
          1) It probably wouldn’t make sense to credit sewer for what streets is paying. We don’t have street utility fee so there is nothing to credit in streets.

          2) What people pay for stormwater on the their sewer bill isn’t proportionate to their use of their stormwater system, its proportionate to their use of sewer. Under a stormwater utility model you would want to charge someone proportionate to their impact on, or use of, the system so it is a true fee for service, not a tax.
          (So the charge on a property-by-property basis wouldn’t be one-to-one when you compare what a property pays today for stormwater on their sewer bill to what they would pay on a stormwater bill.)

          3) We don’t have adequate funding to do all of the stormwater activities we should do, or will likely be required to do by DEQ/EPA. If a future stormwater fee is set to meet our needs it will likely need to generate more revenue than the sewer and street utilities are currently contributing.

          The second part regarding stormwater SDC’s needs clarification. The City does not have SDC’s for stormwater, so no property has paid a stormwater SDC. However, even if they had, SDC’s are for capacity increasing capital projects. A utility could also fund capacity increasing projects but it is really needed for general regulatory compliance and program development, general O & M activities, and perpetual life replacement projects (replacing worn out infrastructure)….all things that aren’t part of SDC’s.

          When our stormwater master plan is finished we will be bringing a stormwater SDC forward for Council consideration. However, SDC’s only apply to people that expand their capacity demand on the system (meaning, new development or expansions).”

          • Gordon L. Shadle says:

            Ray, this will get real interesting the closer the council gets to imposing this tax. And city staff is misrepresenting this as a “fee.” Calling it a “fee” will be perceived as spin. Albany residents do not like to be manipulated in this way.

            A “fee” is a charge levied for the purpose of recovering the cost incurred in providing a service to a payer. This is rightly categorized as a tax because the revenue will go towards stormwater drainage systems, which everyone in the city benefits from—not just payers of the tax. I assume the revenue will not flow to a slush account in the general fund. Allthough that would bolster my point above.

          • Gordon L. Shadle says:

            Yes, the SDC I paid through the price of my house included “storm water management systems.”

            And if Woods doesn’t think a developer passes on the SDC to the homebuyer, he’s delusional, or trying to spin this in the city’s favor. Like I said before, Albany residents don’t like spin. It is deceitful.


            “5. What do SDCs pay for? State law authorizes SDCs collection for growth-related expansion of water, sewer, parks, transportation, and storm water management systems.”

          • Bob Woods says:

            Gordon you need to read what I said below and what you said. The builder paid the SDC, not you. What you did was buy a house in compliance with the applicable laws at the time the house was built.

            The bottom line is that when NEW regulations come along you seem to think you are blessed by some “magic fairy dust” or something that makes you exempt.

            Quit being a TAKER and accept that it’s your responsibility to bear your fair share.

      • James Carrick says:

        Ray, Thanks, that’s good info but it doesn’t address the AUTHORITY of the EPA/DEQ to impose a more strict regulation than before. Did Congress act to impose THESE higher restrictions? Or, is this something dreamed up at the administrative level? I suspect it is, just like so many “new” regulations with the force of law that Congress has not specifically authorized, and that is the source of my ire.

        I’m not arguing whether the city must comply. I’m sure if they don’t comply, the City would be fined or forced into court. This is what many conservatives call “soft tyranny.” Direct democracy is looking better all the time.

        “The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) established a Total Maximum Daily Load
        (TMDL) for the Willamette Basin in an order signed on September 21, 2006.” An “order” with the effect of law.

        Another thing I don’t see is how any such “improvements” are to be quantified. Is there some standard that must be met, or do we just need to take these measures no matter how much or little they do to actually improve the status quo (environment)?

        It’s this “open ended” type of regulation that seems to have no end. If we make actual improvements today, what will keep the EPA/DEQ to impose even more stringent (in theory) measures down the road?

        NOTHING…whether it’s wetlands, storm runoff, or any number of regulations imposed on us by administrative fiat. That’s the basis of my complaint about the system. Whenever Congress passes “comprehensive legislation” it’s time to grab your wallet. Comprehensive has come to mean “poorly written, subject to the whims of those charged with implementation.”

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          “Thanks, that’s good info but it doesn’t address the AUTHORITY of the EPA/DEQ to impose a more strict regulation than before.”

          I don’t get any say in that regard. I have enough on my plate right now.

          “Another thing I don’t see is how any such “improvements” are to be quantified.”

          That will be part of ongoing negotiation with DEQ, etc.

    • HowlingCicada says:

      “””Will we have the freedom to capture and use the “stormwater” ourselves? Or will the city impose its ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ rule and fine us?”””

      Agreed (and I know there are serious cases of this)…

      … but 99.9% of the issue is the _bad_ deed done by impervious surfaces forcing runoff onto others’ property and onto the public domain — an externality that people of a certain political persuation want to ignore.

      To the extent it can be done equitably, it serves us better to tax negative externalities (pollution, non-renewable resource extraction and waste, greenhouse gas emissions, impervious surfaces, etc) than to tax success (profit and income) or consumption (sales tax). This is not a socialist agenda.

      Most of that impervious surface, per capita (look at any urban aerial photo) is either streets, parking lots, or large low-rise stores — just another example of the massive externality burden and ugliness caused by the American Car Culture.

      • James Carrick says:

        “This is not a socialist agenda.” HOGWASH!

        It sure as hell isn’t a conservative, or capitalist agenda. The Democrat party is the one that created this bureaucracy (EPA) when it controlled both houses of Congress in the 70’s and 80’s and now it’s a MONSTER that will not obey. More recently the Demos have been joined by the corrupt element of the Republican party. Washington DC IS CORRUPT…BOTH parties….and that’s exactly why we’re seeing this phenomenon within the “Republican Party” during this presidential campaign and why the “outsiders” (and Ted Cruz, who is no insider) are doing so well.

        True conservatives repudiate this as just another opportunity for government to tax us into submission towards total reliance on the government. WE THE PEOPLE are getting fed up with our government(s) telling us “we must do this or that.” We should be telling our government what THEY must do. WE are supposed to be in charge here, according to our founders.

        The entire equation is back-asswards and it’s time for the PEOPLE to take this country away from the current Washington DC culture. Congress has become a lazy bunch of buffoons that doesn’t know how to write law or is so lazy it hands the regulatory authority to the administrative branch to do the “legislation” our Constitution says belongs with Congress.

        Government regulation ($$ costs to comply, to be more precise) is KILLING the capitalist system on which this country became great and thrived. Some of these ideas were good in theory but have gone so far beyond what they were created to be as to be unrecognizable today. This stuff just sucks the life out of our system.

        If things don’t change, and soon……this nation will collapse under the weight of all of this bureaucratic B.S. Meanwhile, the Democrat front runner and her challenger only offer more of EVERYTHING our founders tried to prevent.

        • HowlingCicada says:

          I agree that both the D and R parties are corrupt. A possible remedy is “Instant-runoff voting” (Wikipedia article) which could, over time, give us better choices. Don’t know if Americans have enough attention span to deal with it.

          Citizens United – championed by Republicans, given to us by Supreme Court conservatives, now used by Democrats – probably did more than anything else to bring about our current state of corruption and paralysis-by-polarization. I don’t see how the Angry Mob Faction of the Republican Party helps (but they’re so much fun to watch, too bad the Incoherent Faction isn’t also there;).

          • James Carrick says:

            I can agree with you on the Citizens United decision. I never could figure out how corporations have become “people.” Big money is corrupting both parties but don’t be blaming all of our country’s woes on “conservative justices.” FDR stacked the deck heavily during his presidency, particularly with the appointment of Hugo Black to the SCOTUS, ushering in this “statist” philosophy we find ourselves living under since the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal, and the effects of FDR’s appointments are being felt strongly to this day.

    • Bob Woods says:

      “For goodness sakes, taxing us for the rain that falls on our property?”

      Well, hear we go again! (To borrow a phrase from Ronald Reagan.) No Mr. G, the tax is NOT to pay for the rain that falls on your property. It to pay for you not KEEPING that rain on YOUR property and allowing it to run onto other property.

      Only someone as twisted as you would choose to ignore that your subdivision, like all of them, was designed to have rainwater to go away from your house, so as to save your foundation and investment from harm

      That water primarily goes into streets where it is collected and diverted. The problem occurs because dense cities funnel far more water away than vacant land, which has the ability to absorb a significant portion and return it to the groundwater supply. Houses, streets, parking lots, buildings all cause far more runoff than occurs naturally.

      We created the problem. Your created the problem. It’s all our responsibility to fix problems that we create. Or we can adopt the Libertarian approach and the city can individually sue all property owners to demand that they keep THEIR rainwater on THEIR property.

      Only that would be really stupid, wouldn’t it. Everybody ticked off; attorney fees reaching towards the stars; maybe even the occasional standoff with some nut threatening to shoot.

      Or folks can work together. Talk it out. Review options and try and come up with a plan of action. On their own, to save everyone loads of money and to make sure that the solution has a reasonable chance of working, instead of 50,000 individual solutions.

      It’s called “government”, and you REALLY hate it. We get that.

  3. James Carrick says:

    This issue is not unlike the “wetland” issues discussed recently here. This is yet another example of federal and state governments handing down unfunded mandates to local government by their “administrative authority”, rather than a specific law passed for this expressed purpose by a legislative body. Simply put, executive branch law making.

    I don’t think this is what our founders had in mind. Ninety percent of the EPA should be abolished along with it’s derivative state agencies.

    • Barbara Casali-Mingus says:


    • Bob Woods says:

      “…rather than a specific law passed for this expressed purpose by a legislative body. Simply put, executive branch law making.”

      Not even close, and you should know better.

      While there are several laws that apply, most remember The Clean Water Act, passed by the Congress in 1977, which was an overhaul of the Water Pollution Control Act passed, by the Congress in 1948.

      These LAWS passed by the CONGRESS charged the Executive Branch to implement the LAWS that CONGRESS passed. That implementation involved a lot of thing, including REGULATIONS.

      Congress makes the laws, The Executive branch formulates and enforces regulations to implement the laws passed by Congress. Time for you to go back and re–read 8th grade American History.

      As for what the founders intended, I think that Tomas Jefferson summed it up so well, that why we, the people, inscribed his words on the wall of the Jefferson Memorial:

      “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

      • James Carrick says:

        “Congress makes the laws, The Executive branch formulates and enforces regulations to implement the laws passed by Congress.Time for you to go back and re–read 8th grade American History.”

        Somebody needs to get your memo to Obama. Meanwhile, if you can’t see what’s going on you need to remove your rose colored glasses, Bob.

        • Bob Woods says:

          James, one of these days you should just wake up, in the 21st century instead of the 18th.

          George Orwell talked about people like you, who redefine words to change their common meaning just to control others.

          Laws are made by Congress. Regulations are promulgated by the agencies that the laws created for the purpose of enforcing the laws.

          The Environmental Protection Agency was designed and started by President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican. Here is what Wikipedia says:

          “The EPA was proposed by President Richard Nixon and began operation on December 2, 1970, after Nixon signed an executive order. The order establishing the EPA was ratified by committee hearings in the House and Senate.The agency is led by its Administrator, who is appointed by the president and approved by Congress.”

          Read that again James instead of trying to hide from the truth: THE EPA WAS CREATED BY A CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT ISSUING AN EXECUTIVE ORDER.

          Even under Regan and Bush 1, the EPA kept sailing along. It wasn’t until the rise of Gingrich and the irresponsible right-wing radicals preaching the politics of hate, that the republican party began systematically pursuing the re-definition of history and, in your case, what a “law” is.

          As long as you continue to worship at the shrine of “newspeak” predicted by Orwell, the Constitution remains in jeopardy.

          Come away from the Dark Side, James. Join the people working to improve the common good, instead of trying to drag the country backward to the 1790’s.

          • James Carrick says:

            I did NOT get personal with you. Your comment in reply has a number of personal insults.

            If you can’t act like an adult and debate the issues without so much emotion, you should just put the computer away and CHILL.

  4. Barbara Casali-Mingus says:

    Good ol’ EPA. It’s never going to end. They make up rules just to justify their existence (and their fat paychecks and bloated benefits).

  5. tom cordier says:

    My property storm water run-off goes directly to a wetland–not thru a storm water sewer.
    I will not pay the tax. Owners should investigate their systems to know where gutters and drains actually terminate

  6. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Less than ten years ago the city forced the developer of my house to pay a System Development Charge (a tax) for the infrastructure to discharge all water and sewer from my property. This includes rain water that falls from the sky onto my roof and driveway. paid the tax in the price I paid for the house.

    Will the city now tax me a second time? Is this fair?

    • Bob Woods says:

      “Less than ten years ago the city forced the developer of my house to pay a System Development Charge (a tax)”

      1) The developer paid to install the infrastructure for your subdivision to be developed. The homebuilder paid the SDC as the proportionate cost for using that infrastructure. Get that straight. You DID NOT pay an SDC fee. As for it being in the price, that’s a market issue. If the builder ended up selling during the Great Recession at a loss, would you then say that you got your house without paying an SDC? Hardly.

      You merely bought a house from a willing seller, which could have been a previous owner or a builder. (Why is it you ALWAYS have to distort what really happens? Never mind, we know the answer.)

      2) SDC’s paid for a portion of the cost that was either a) installed by someone else and the builder was paying what is considered a “fair share” of the cost, or 2) was paying a “fair share” for a city installed system paid for by other taxpayers, or 3) Paying for already adopted extensions contained the Water/Sewer plans that are needed to make the system function. In reality, it’s probably some of all 3.

      If something NEW is now required to protect the health and safety of the community and to ensure our grandkids can grow up in an environment at least as good as we did, why the hell do you think that you would not be expected to pay your fair share? It’s because you are one of the TAKERS Gordon. You want a free ride.

  7. Bob Woods says:

    Come on Hasso, a “tax on rain”?

    Yeah, it makes an interesting come-on to garner readers, but it’s not really a fair representation of the issue, is it?

    OK, Ok. Yes formulating an issue for comment is a good thing, but it’s not like you’re responsible for income to maintain a major news operation any more.

    • HowlingCicada says:

      My reaction to the come-on was “ho hum, tax again, that’s all Republicans ever want to talk about” and saved it for a bored time. I didn’t anticipate the useful info on impervious-surface tax Hasso would provide, for which I’m thankful.

    • James Carrick says:

      Well, it IS rainwater and a tax to discharge it into the river we’re talking about here…………

      Connect the dots. It’s easy.

  8. Shawn Dawson says:

    My property taxes went up by 3% again this year. I have a spreadsheet for my taxes since ’97 and that is the average increase these past 17 years.

    My income did not go up.

    This ‘rain water tax’ should be taken out of that 3% increase. It should not be an additional tax (a fee is just another type of tax).


    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      The city has no input into the 3% property tax raise. That’s the job of the Linn Co. Assesor. (Mine went up 5.3%…)

      • Shawn Dawson says:

        Thanks Ray,

        I understand that. See my post in another thread — the assessed value of my land increased by 16% this year, and my house by 11%. Ugh.

        I have been kicking around an idea of somehow tying property taxes (exclusive of bonds) to one’s ability to pay, not just to assessed house value, from which one derives no monetary income.

        My idea is to go ahead with the assessed tax (exclusive of bonds) and calculate the tax on that. But then cap it at a percentage of one’s income. Not sure what the percent should be, we’d have to do the math there to figure out something that brings in about the same money as currently. Tying it to income could be as simple as using one’s Oregon State tax returns for the year — the line that shows total income before any deductions (depending on the form).

        The idea is that for most people, the cap would not come into play, but it would for retirees who see their income drastically reduced, or for folks who lose their jobs, etc.


        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          You would need to run it by the Co. Assessor to see if it could be a doable process. “Means testing” is intriguing, but it would probably come down to how it meshes with current state laws and whether or not the county [alone] could implement that. And we’re not even getting into the monetary ramifications of doing it.

  9. tom cordier says:

    This whole mess is an example of our dysfunctional system. We elect the council—they hire a manager using our money–he hires staff using our money–the staff in this case gets
    paid with our money to go to League of Oregon Cities looking for ideas to get more money from us to support staff and non-essential spending. I appeal to all residents to not pay these imposed fees–they can’t jail us all. Banding together is the only power we have.
    Let me know when you want to march and demonstrate.


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