A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

The rain tax: An expense for some

Written October 11th, 2016 by Hasso Hering
With lots of roofs and pavement, LBCC will be one of the bigger payers of the Albany rain tax.

Sites with lots of roofs and pavement, like LBCC shown here, will be affected far more than residential utility customers.

Many homeowners may hardly notice Albany’s planned new storm water utility fee — a rain tax, in other words — when it takes effect next year. But for the city’s utility customers with the largest amounts of impervious surface, such as schools and companies with big buildings and parking lots, it will be a bigger expense. How much more? Read on.

The city council has been talking about a rain tax for much of this year and last. It did so again at a work session Monday. The apparent consensus is that on Oct. 26 the council will repass the storm water utility ordinance it adopted and then repealed last spring. Then, perhaps in December, it will be asked to adopt a resolution setting out the amounts to be added to the monthly bills of city water and sewer customers starting, probably, March 1.

The rain tax’s effective date is not yet firm, but it will correspond to a planned reduction of 2 percent in water and 6 percent in sewer rates. That’s because the city uses water and sewer revenue now to maintain its storm water system, amounting to about $1.3 million a year. The rain tax will take the place of that amount plus raise about half a million more to help the city deal with the anticipated requirements of a new state permit governing the management of storm water runoff.

The rain tax for each customer will include the same base charge for everyone, plus a charge based on the average size of impervious surface on residential lots and the actual size of such surfaces of all other parcels.

For the average residential customer, the city has calculated the rain tax will be $6.74 a month, and with the reductions for sewer and water service the net increase will average about $2 a month. There will be three tiers: The smallest properties pay 50 cents a month less; the largest 50 cents more, and the 80 percent in the middle the standard residential charge.

For the biggest nonresidential customers, city employees recently looked at the water and sewer bills of each for the last 12 months, then calculated the rain tax based on size of roofs and parking lots and such, and met with each to explain the effect. On Tuesday I asked for the details, and here they are:

The Greater Albany Public Schools, with 19 sites within the city, are at the top of the list. For the past 12 months, GAPS would have had a monthly rain tax of $2,342. Its water and sewer bills would have been cut by $633, leaving a net impact of $1,709 a month. That amounts to a yearly expense of about $20,500.

The Target Distribution Center in south Albany would have had to pay a net $1,822 in monthly storm water fees or an annual rain tax of just under $22,000.

For ATI, with five sites within in Albany, the total additional charge would have been $620 a month or about $7,400 for the year.

For Linn County government, which has 10 sites within the city, the storm water fee would have been $855 a month or more than $10,000 for the year.

All other big nonresidential properties, including Linn-Benton Community College and Heritage Mall, would have had smaller monthly rain tax amounts ($504 a month for LBCC and $332 for the mall). And for some — the Mennonite Home, the Columbus Greens mobile home park, National Frozen Foods, Oregon Freeze Dry, and Samaritan Health — the reductions in sewer and water charges would have more than wiped out the additional rain tax for a net savings in their monthly city bills.

The council on Monday agreed that nonresidential properties should be able to earn credits of up to 25 percent of their storm water fee if they take steps — beyond what’s required anyway — to reduce the amount of runoff from their properties.

As proposed by the city staff, individual schools — but not LBCC — also could seek a negotiated credit in return for granting the city access to classes for education on storm water itself. Under the new state permit, which attempts to carry out federal law, one of the things the city must do is public education to reduce pollution reaching our streams.

Councilor Rich Kellum on Monday argued that properties that don’t put rain runoff into the city system should not have to pay. Councilman Floyd Collins, a returned public works director, countered that the expenses of the city storm water system are not affected by what a singe property owner does. On a related question, the council agreed not to exempt properties whose owners claim rain falling on their land doesn’t drain to the city drainage system at all. That would be all but impossible to administer, everybody seemed to agree. (hh)





13 responses to “The rain tax: An expense for some”

  1. Kim Ullfers says:

    The same angst we have delt with in Lebanon. We just didn’t get offsets like Albany seems to be.

  2. Rolland Brower says:

    An interesting comment that properties that don’t use the city drainage system are impossible to administer. All one needs to do is put a garden hose or some water mixed with a dye (the city has) in the homes gutters and downspouts, then see it ends up on the street gutter system. Even easier is if the gutter in front of a home has outlets at the curb.

    Other cities in the State also have a rainwater collection program encouraging residence to disconnect their downspouts from the cities system so rainwater is used on the property and not needing to be treated.

  3. Shawn Dawson says:

    Ugggh, this is a mess. We may as well call it what it is — a parking lot tax.

    Thinking through just one example,, based on the analysis of what the GAPS school district would have paid, and considering that schools money is already tax money, this means that the city is effectively grabbing $20,500 per year of tax money away from our public schools.

    Over a 20 year period, without adjusting for increases in this tax, that is $400,000 dollars. Just something to keep in mind when the school bond is proposed.

    That is not small change.

    • hj.anony1 says:

      Agreed! It is taking $$ from one pocket and placing it in the other. Schools should be exempted!! Make up the difference on the backs of corporations.

  4. tom cordier says:

    The proposal is based on a yet-to-be determined set of regulations. Only City engineering staff are negotiating the final permit conditions. The Council should engage Legal Professionals to negotiate rather than engineers who are no match for NRDC lawyers who push for more stringent requirements. Engineers think “can we do it”. City lawyers will think
    “what does the law actually require” and look for alternatives to reduce costs.

    • Bob Woods says:

      There’s a line in Shakespeare’s Henry VI that says: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

      Good old Tom the Agitator wants to change that to “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the engineers.”

      Tom just wants to waste more taxpayer dollars on worthless lawsuits as he has done multiple times with his filings against the city.

      Maybe he’ll change his last name to Trump.

  5. Jim Engel says:

    This is just like Measure 97. Just another means to “tax” us & pour it into a slush fund for as yet un-named State regulations!..JE

  6. Jackson Cauter says:

    We are pleased that the Kellum portion of the Konopa-Kellum cartel appears fit to fight the fight for the thousands of Albany property owners who never contribute even a milliliter of rain runoff to the City storm sewers yet who may still be subject to the City’s proposed rain tax. Kellum has long stood in the way of governments intent on running amuck over the rights of citizens. His stance, while somewhat admirable, seems untenable when you recall that Kellum linked souls with Konopa in opposition to recreational pot sales in Albany despite the FACT that Ballot Measure 91 passed in the city. Both Konopa and Kellum betrayed the electorate.

    This strange act demonstrates one concerning aspect about both Konopa and Kellum. Both are shameless opportunists who will adopt any position they deem advantageous to their unending political ambitions. Fortunately for Albany citizens, the greater council determined that Kellum’s position was unsupportable. Water, as Kellum should know, always flows to the lowest point, making absurd his claim that some property does not contribute to storm water runoff.

    On this topic, even Kellum’s new found ally, Konopa found that she could not bend her ethics as far as Kellum demanded. Perhaps this signals a beginning of the end for the Konopa-Kellum clatch.

  7. H. R. Richner says:

    It does not seem to bother anybody anymore: The city must have a state permit based on federal law? Uncle Stalin smiles.

  8. hj.anony1 says:

    Story follow up idea for you HH. Really would like to read what the various Albany council candidates have to say on this matter.

  9. tom cordier says:

    I think money spent to require voter approval before more City debt is allowed and before another URD is allowed was money well spent. The City elongated the process costing more money because they would not refer the issues directly to the voters who overwhelmingly agreed. Good legal help is valuable particularly on environmental issues.
    So “good ole tax and spend bob” can go back to sleep


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