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HASSO HERING

A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Rain tax ? Uncertainty prevails

Written March 23rd, 2016 by Hasso Hering
Utility official Mark Yeager explains the status of regulations to the Albany City Council Wednesday.

Utility official Mark Yeager explains the status of regulations to the Albany City Council Wednesday.

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)



4 responses to “Rain tax ? Uncertainty prevails”

  1. centrist says:

    To paraphrase
    Stuff might happen, but then things might change
    Film eventually, maybe

  2. Jim Engel says:

    And just what the heck are we tax payers supposed to get for this new “utility fee”?? What new structures, new staff, & what-not are in store. Or is this just a way of pocketing our money for a slush fund??!!…JE

    • Bob Woods says:

      No slush funds.

      If people quit hyperventilating and instead listened to what and how government works, there be a lot less fear mongering going on. Here’s how the law requires things to work.

      The only money in government that can be spent wherever the Council wants to are monies dedicated to the General Fund, which is overwhelmingly funded by the basic property tax you pay. That money goes almost all for Police and Fire costs, with a little left over for the Library and Planning operations. A certain amount in Albany has also been dedicated to Parks.

      General Obligation Bonds, voted by the people, can ONLY be spent on the specific projects, types of expenditures and expenses detailed in the bond documents when the bonds were approved.The money can’t be just spent anywhere.

      Revenue Bonds for the self-sustaining Utilities operations treated under accounting rules as separate stand-alone operations are issued by the Council to be funded by revenues from rates and fees for those operations. The money can ONLY be spent on the specific projects, types of expenditures and expenses detailed in the bond documents when the bonds were approved. The money can’t be just spent anywhere.

      Fees and Charges must be related to the specific service provided and have a direct relationship to the cost of the services being provided. Water and Sewer monthly rates and charges go to run those utilities. Other fees in the City support those individual operations that charge them. For example, you can’t use Building Fees to help run the Library. The money can’t be just spent anywhere.

      Any fees dedicated to Stormwater management can only be used to support the costs of those operations. The money can’t be just spent anywhere.

      Remember, stormwater management costs have been absorbed by the City Utilities funds for decades as Hasso has pointed out. For a long time, costs for the stormwater piece has been fairly small in the overall costs of running the utilities.

      But the state and fed’s have also been saying for years to prepare for a large increase in costs for stormwater management. Why? Because the time has come to try and significantly reduce the contamination of oil, chemicals, pesticides, debris, dog poop, and all the other gunk that goes down the storm drain and mostly ends up in the Willamette polluting the water.

      When Albany was a own of 5,000 that wasn’t nearly the kind of impact that it is with a town nearing 55,000 and growing,

      So what is going to get built/made from these new stormwater fees? A fair question. And the answer appears to be that they are still sorting out what will need to be done as the rules the City must operate under are being clarified.

      That’s why, according to Hasso’s story, they aren’t putting a fee into effect at this point.

      What they are doing is putting the legal framework in place so that accounting systems and the careful segregation of existing cost tracking can be put into a separate accounting operation called a Stormwater Utility, separate from the Water and Sewer Utilities. A new budget year starts on July 1. With the new Utility, people will be able to more easily see the clear fully loaded costs of managing storm water operations.

      Then fees can be started when projects and costs are worked out and after careful consideration by the Council with further public input.

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