Council gives go-ahead to possible stormwater fee

Trash and other debris blocks a gutter on Ohio Avenue. Photo by William Harless

Trash and other debris blocks a gutter on Ohio Avenue. Photo by William Harless

It will take an extra $19 a year tacked onto Richmond property owners’ tax bills to help keep the city in compliance with federal and state clean water regulations.

So say Contra Costa County officials, whose new fee plan the Richmond City Council endorsed this week.

Officials say the county needs to nearly double the amount of money it’s collecting, totaling an extra $12-$15 million annually, to stay in compliance with federal and state stormwater runoff regulations.

And even if the proposed new fee plan passes, Richmond is still going to have to scramble to find other ways to generate enough money to cover its stormwater costs, because the new fee revenues won’t be enough.

“We’re in an untenable situation,” said Contra Costa Clean Water Program manager Tom Dalziel on Wednesday. “We don’t have sufficient funds to implement the federal mandates.”

The regulations aim to keep water that flows from city streets and gutters into stormwater drains free from trash, chemicals, pesticides and other contaminants. This water ultimately ends up in the San Francisco Bay and Delta.

The state fines municipalities and businesses $10,000 daily if they don’t meet the standards.

But the decision on the new fee will ultimately be up to property owners, who will likely vote on the proposal in February, which is when the Contra Costa Clean Water Program plans to mail ballots on the measure to all landowners.

Contra Costa County’s current National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit — the document that outlines the federal and state water run-off regulations that local counties, municipalities and business need to comply with — is stricter than prior permits, which is why the extra money is needed, according to Dalziel.

The amount of the new fee would vary in different sections of the county, ranging from $12-$22 a year per parcel. That amount will depend on what property owners in various sections of the county, in telephone and other polls conducted this past spring, indicated they would be willing to pay.

No city would subsidize another, however, and cities would have to make up any of their own funding gaps out of their general funds – money that would otherwise go to other municipal departments.

“It’s kind of a real dire situation we’re in, and of course no one wants to pay any additional taxes,” Dalziel said.

But Contra Costa Clean Water Program project manager Donald Freitas says the regulations are critical.

“We started our first permit in 1993, and incrementally we continue to ratchet up improvements for public agencies to get rid of pollutants entering the waters,” he said. “Water quality is extremely important to the health of human beings, fish and wildlife, economic development and so forth.”

Richmond spends about $1.5 million annually on its stormwater collection system and on runoff water regulation compliance, according to Richmond Stormwater Program manager Lynne Scarpa.

She said the new fees, if they pass, would generate about $600,000 a year for the city but that this isn’t enough to cover the city’s total regulatory compliance costs. Roughly, about an extra $100,000 annually will be needed, she said.

The City Council voted unanimously this week to support the new county plan. And last month, the council approved a new inspection fee schedule, raising stormwater inspection fees for businesses and construction companies to help pay for stormwater infrastructure and permit costs.

The city is also looking for grants and other ways to raise the lacking funds.

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