The rules under which small Oregon towns will have to operate their storm water systems are still in flux, and how costly they will be and what effect they will have on Albany’s eventual rain tax nobody knows.
That’s my understanding after Wednesday night’s Albany City Council meeting. The council voted to advance an ordinance establishing a storm water utility. It plans to vote on the ordinance again and adopt it at the next council meeting, on April 13.
Having a separate utility will allow the city to administer the storm drain system and funding separately from the street and water funds, where storm drainage work now is included. The utility ordinance also will authorize but not require the council to impose and collect a rain tax. Of course it does not call it that. The official term is “storm water utility fee.” The details of such a charge, in addition to the current water and sewer billing, probably will take most of the rest of this year to work out. The city staff hopes to have the rain tax in place by next March.
On Wednesday, city utility official Mark Yeager explained to the council that the federal Environmental Protection Agency, in response to a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, expects to finish rewriting its 1999 storm water regulations for small cities this coming November. Meanwhile, operating under the previous EPA mandate, the state Department of Environmental Quality is finishing state regulations and preparing to issue a general permit to carry them out. (A public meeting on the new DEQ rules is scheduled for May 10, either in Portland or Eugene, but time and place have not been set.)
All of which prompted Councilman Floyd Collins to remark on the uncertainty of it all. Who knows what EPA or DEQ will adopt, he mused, or whether the DEQ will have to redo the work it is just finishing on the state storm water rules. “We may have to go down this road again,” he said.
For Albany property owners and utility ratepayers, the upshot is that they will likely have to pay more, but it’s impossible to estimate, let alone say exactly, how much more, or when. (hh)