By Kristi Reed
With state and federal mandates placing an added financial burden on Barrow County’s Public Works Department, county officials are exploring means of funding required repairs and maintenance of stormwater facilities.
Public Works Director Terry Darragh said proper maintenance will allow the county to meet environmental requirements and result in less expense over time.
“The cost of managing stormwater today is a fraction of the cost [it becomes] after it has been damaged and is in disrepair,” said Darragh.
The county created a stormwater management department in 2003. Since its inception, the department has identified over 300 detention ponds and 98 miles of storm drain piping within the county that must be maintained.
Though current ordinances require property owners to maintain detention facilities on their property, the stormwater department has determined that over 95 percent of the detention ponds in Barrow have not been properly managed.
To address this issue, the county has proposed that a stormwater utility fee be assessed against all property owners in the unincorporated parts of the county. The collected funds would be used to maintain the stormwater infrastructure, removing the burden from the individual property owners.
The fee would be based on the square footage of impervious surfaces on the property. The county estimates that there are approximately 60 million square feet of impervious surfaces within Barrow including paved roads, driveways, parking lots and roof tops.
Property owners would be charged $1.16 per 100 square feet of impervious area. For a home or commercial building with 1,800 square feet of impervious surfaces, the bill would amount to approximately $20.88 each year.
If the fee is implemented, the county’s ordinances would be amended to define the level of service the county would provide in terms of stormwater maintenance and repairs.
Several citizens expressed support for the stormwater utility fee at Thursday night’s public hearing on the proposed 2009 budget.
Edwin Newman said he has spent $700 in an attempt to address deficiencies cited in a notice of violation sent by the county. According to Newman, it will cost over $6,000 to bring the detention pond on his property up to code.
“We’re running into an impossible scenario here,” he said.
Scott Peedee asked commissioners not to place the burden of stormwater management on the property owners. Peedee said many of the ponds have never been maintained and that the average property owner does not have the money or expertise to do the required maintenance.
“It doesn’t seem realistic to expect homeowners to get these ponds up to code,” he said.
Several other citizens expressed concern about costs and liability issues related to maintenance of stormwater facilities and said they would support the stormwater utility fee.
Over the next year, the county is required by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to document maintenance or repairs on at least 20 percent of Barrow’s stormwater infrastructure. Failure to comply with this requirement could leads to fines and impact the county’s ability to obtain or maintain water and wastewater permits as well as its ability to issue land disturbance permits.
“The issue becomes how do we get all these done and by what method,” Darragh said.
Over the next five years, the county will be required to show that maintenance and repairs have been completed on the entire stormwater infrastructure.
“We know the problems,” Darragh said. “Now the expectation is that we do something about them.”
While several commissioners expressed reluctance to implement the fee, county administrator Keith Lee said there is simply not enough money in the general fund to pay for all the needed repairs.
“The reason we are proposing to go ahead and implement the stormwater utility is a mechanism not to raise taxes,” he said.
For 2009, $677,600 has been budgeted for the stormwater department. The funding would be provided by the stormwater utility fee.
The Barrow County Board of Commissioners will meet Tuesday, September 23 at 7 p.m. to vote on the fiscal year 2009 budget, which includes the proposed stormwater fee. The board meets at the Barrow County Administration Building, 233 East Broad Street in Winder.
Maybe the airport authority can loan the BOC some money to operate on. They seem to operate on on unlimited budget. With the down turn in the economy the tax payers are only beginning to feel the pinch of repaying the debt the current commissioners are leaving behind. Has anyone asked what the county will do the the payments come due on the approx. 15 million in bonds that were issued to purchase the Segars property on Hwy.53, I bet one of the recently ousted commissioners or Airport Authority members would be glad to take it off the county's hands for say 50 cents on the dollar. Today the proposal is to let all property owners pay for storm drain repair and maintanance, sort of makes you worry about what will be coming next does'nt it.