A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Rain tax average: $9 monthly

Written March 7th, 2016 by Hasso Hering
 The Albany rain tax would not be charged against highways or streets, the city staff suggested.

The Albany rain tax would not be charged against highways or streets, the city staff suggested.

Nobody can yet say how stiff Albany’s rain tax will be. But in Oregon cities that already have one, the average is just under $9 a month.

The city council went through another two-hour work session on the proposed “storm water utility” Monday, following a carefully prepared outline of points to be considered before the new charge is imposed, probably in March 2017. (The city spells it as one word, but my computer insists there’s no such word as “stormwater.”)

Mark Yeager, the city’s utility rate engineer, resolutely deflected council requests about how big a jump in monthly bills Albany’s roughly 17,500 utility customers can expect. This will depend mainly on the amount of revenue the city will need to meet new regulatory requirements and make improvements to the storm drain system, which is separate from the sanitary sewers and carries untreated water to the river.

After the meeting I asked Mark to give me an estimate. He couldn’t, but he said among Oregon cities with storm water fees, the charges vary widely and the average is about $9.

The state Department of Environmental Quality is developing new rules on discharging storm water. And Albany for the first time will be required to get a DEQ permit for its drainage system. Councilors Floyd Collins and Bill Coburn asked for changes in a draft ordinance to reflect that the new charge is being set up largely because of these additional state rules. Collins and Councilor Rich Kellum say they want the city to push back against state regulations that go beyond what is required under the federal Clean Water Act.

No decisions have been made on anything. But among other things, the staff is suggesting that the rate be based on an “equivalent residential unit,” that residences be charged in a tiered system based on the amount of impervious surface such as roofs and driveways, and that unimproved lots not be charged at all. Publicly owned properties such as schools and tax-exempt properties would be charged. So would properties discharging directly into creeks.

The staff’s schedule — and the council so far has shown no wish to deviate from it — goes like this: The storm water utility ordinance will be on the agenda for council action March 23; revenue needs will be reviewed April 11; and more money discussions will be had on May 9 and June 6.

The council and staff plan to sponsor all kinds of public “outreach” efforts to explain the new fee program. Rates then would be set in December and become effective next March.

I had the thought that the council could sidestep this elaborate process, which started a year ago, if the city simply figured out what needed to be done with runoff — especially in view of the DEQ’s tightening grip — and jack up the sewer rates accordingly. The explanation and the expected public outcry would be the same. But no new utility would have to be created. And I wouldn’t keep calling it a new tax on rain. (hh)

21 responses to “Rain tax average: $9 monthly”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Hey, $9 is only 3 or 4 cups of coffee at Starbucks. Of course I already gave up some cups to pay for the local police/fire levy, a couple of more cups for the new police and fire buildings, and even more cups for the school bonds. Now I rarely go to Starbucks.

    On a more serious note, some of your readers have expressed a desire to capture and use the rain water that falls on their property, wanting to avoid the new tax. They need to read the case of Gary Harrington in Jackson County who was fined and jailed for collecting government-owned raindrops in three ponds on his property. Is this in Albany’s future?


    • centrist says:

      Good morning Gordon
      My read is that Harrington dammed watercourses in the process of building the ponds. That triggered a water rights issue. Since the City of Medford had longstanding superior rights in the area, he was ordered to breach the dams and pay a fine.
      On the other hand, collecting roof runoff into a cistern is allowed.

      • Gordon L. Shadle says:

        No, he did not divert water from existing watercourses. He only collected water that fell on his property from the sky in form of rain and snow. He needed the water for fire suppression purposes. Since when does government own the rain and snow that falls on a person’s private property?

        And even if you have an artificial reservoir at your Albany residence that collects every drop of rainwater, and you do not deposit a drop of that water into the stormwater system, you will still be forced to pay the city rain tax. How is that fair?

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          I’m intrigued as to exactly how you can “…collect[s] every drop of rainwater…” off ALL your impervious surfaces (roof, driveway, etc.) that wouldn’t cost you a lot of money?

        • centrist says:

          Guess we have different sources as to what Harrington did.
          Once rain hits the ground, the regional water-master is likely to take an interest in preserving the rights of downstream users (who sometimes have superior rights). So the question isn’t about ownership of rainfall, but preservation of the rights of many to the use of a limited resource.
          As far as the fairness of paying for construction and maintenance of a stormwater system is concerned, my best answer is that it’s a burden to be shared by the residents. The approach that is apparently under consideration includes those who don’t have sewer connections (as well as those few in the city who are still on wells and septic)

  2. Jim Engel says:

    Very clever how the council delayed & waited to first get the Police & Fire levy passed then dump this on us. And this utility increase isn’t something we’ll get to vote on. That levy was sure was one! These regulations have been known for a couple of years now so why the delay? What’s next..a cell phone fee, a per leaf falling in the street fee, a per breath fee, and there is NO end to the creative & excessive means for “utility fees” not called taxes! Tell ya what Mr. Hering….. you pay my utility increase & I’ll stop calling it a tax. JE

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      “Very clever how the council delayed & waited to first get the Police & Fire levy passed then dump this on us.”

      No. Because of the state law, you will see a Police & Fire renewal request every 5 years. Municipalities are not allowed to ask for a longer duration levy.

      “These regulations have been known for a couple of years now so why the delay?”

      These regulations” are changing each year and getting more complex. Trying to comply with the mandates and make it equitable without making them overly complex, yet being able to recover the costs of implementation is definitely not for the faint of heart!

      • Jim Engel says:

        Mr Kopczynski, I was referring to the BOND issue for the two Taj Mahal’s (new police & fire stations) in Nov 15. NOT the annual levy. Your answering me with an entirely different issue is typical of a politicians manner of deflecting the argument! Your deluge of official verbage is tiring….JE

        • Hasso Hering says:

          Typical? He was replying to what you asked. If you had said “bond,” no one would have thought you were talking about the “levy.” (hh)

      • Bill Kapaun says:

        “No. Because of the state law, you will see a Police & Fire renewal request every 5 years. Municipalities are not allowed to ask for a longer duration levy.”

        There is no law that says you HAVE to renew a levy every 5 years.
        Of course, the concept of asking for a shorter levy would be quite foreign to you.

    • Larry Adams says:

      Jim, Portland already has a fee for “a per leaf falling in the street fee”. $15-$30 per household. Oops, should’na brought that up.

  3. Rich Kellum says:

    To put this in perspective, we are at the point of investigating what and when etc, at this point we do not even know what the requirements are going to be from DEQ. After we know that then and only then do we decide how we comply, if we comply, to what extent we comply and then what that will cost. We are in process of setting up the system to find out. the whole thing will take many months before we get it done.
    Rich Kellum

  4. H. R. Richner says:

    I just read that all the water in Oregon belongs to the state, as a man was convicted for accumulating water in a pond on his property without permission (Only the water from our roof is exempt). Consequently, the city may need permission from the state government for its new tax.
    Next I’d like to see the State of Oregon sue the federal government for the water on its unconstitutional properties in our state.

  5. tom cordier says:

    The issue to me is really understanding what the actual requirements are. Typically they are exaggerated at the local level because bureaucrats like planners and engineers like to add on their stuff called “we really owtta wanna do this too” stuff.

  6. Floyd Collins says:

    Take a look at Hasso’s blog again. Both Councilor Kellum and I are on record as directing staff to push back on DEQ as they draft the Discharge Permit requirements that exceed the standards of the Federal Storm Water Standards. Why should Oregon have stricter standards where DEQ implements the Federal Law as opposed to Idaho where EPA implements the very same Federal Standards. Greater levels of standards mean greater cost to comply with same Law. More push back to come.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      It would be better if the Mayor and all of the councilors communicated as a united team. The DEQ will shrug off a city staff that doesn’t have the support of the full council.

      Also, this council is not shy about directing the City Attorney to fight Albany residents. Direct him to fight DEQ instead.

      Until we see a united front by the entire council, residents will be left with the perception that the only thing being done is political posturing.

  7. tom cordier says:

    Floyd–was your desire for staff to push-back actually taken to a vote of the Council. If four votes did not agree with push-back staff will not be directed to do so.

    • Floyd Collins says:

      Tom: during our Council Work session held on Monday, all six Councilors were in attendance, the Mayor was excused from that meeting. The City of Albany staff is represented on a DEQ advisory committee currently working with DEQ to draft the regulations that will form the basis for the subsequent permit activities. Draft rules are expected with the next few month. Public review and comment period will follow. Bottom line, Council concurred with the direction to push back at the staff level at this point, no vote was taken but all seemed to concur. Once the rules are out we will have an opportunity to review our options up to and including legal actions.

  8. tom cordier says:

    Floyd–I still believe a vote is the only thing that has the force of conviction. If all seemed to concur the vote should have been easy w/o the mayor’s presence.
    Opinions are not binding–Did the City Manager direct his staff during the meeting to push back??


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