Study considers stormwater utility fee

Adoption would transition Burleson from tax-based policy

City Council is considering transition to a stormwater utility fee structure, which could result in more equality based on usage, instead of property ownership.

"This is a very common approach to fund stormwater management," said Trey Shanks, stormwater manager at Freese and Nichols, Inc. "It is a very stable, reliable source of revenue to pay for stormwater services."

Burleson presently funds stormwater management through property tax.

"It is more equitable than just relying on taxes," said Paul Cain, Burleson's deputy city manager.

Texas law allows for municipalities to establish stormwater utility fees, contingent on being "reasonable, equitable and non-discrimatory," Shanks said in a presentation Monday to City Council. A map of surrounding cities reflects almost every other municipality has transitioned to a stormwater utility-based funding mechanism.

If adopted, a fee would be assessed as early as October on a utility bill, and the portion of the funding in property tax could be removed. City Council expects to renew discussion in September, following public information sessions in July.

A sampling of 140 residential properties among 12,939 were used in the Freese and Nichols study to determine the potential impact on an average residential property with 3,300 square feet of "impervious area," the measure of property that would produce water runoff.

There are two methods being used to determine stormwater utility rates, Shanks said, including a flat rate and a multi-tiered fee that would place about 60 percent of residential properties in a middle tier.

That tier could expect a fee of $2.98 at the lowest service level, $4.25 at the next service level and a fee of $6.80 at the top service level.

"These rates assume all of your exemptions are in place," Shanks said. "If you didn't use any exemptions at all, the cost would be lowered."

The most common exemptions are for city, school and church properties.

"My position is no one should be exempted," City Councilman Dan McClendon said. "A new church with a huge parking lot places the same demand on [the] stormwater [system] as a new, big box retailer. We don't give [churches] free trash or free sewer."

The Burleson ISD has 6.5 million square feet of impervious area, equivalent to the area of 2,400 homes, Cain said.

"As much as I love the schools, we're asking everyone else to pick up the tab if we approve exemptions," City Councilman Ronnie Johnson said.

City Councilman Dan-O Strong agreed: "I don't think there should be exemptions. If the Burleson ISD is paying Fort Worth but not paying us, that doesn't make sense."

Water runoff from Burleson High School and the BISD's administration area has created erosion in the city's right-of-way, Cain said as an example, that would ultimately fall to the city to address.

"It makes the most sense that everyone shares the burden equally, but proportionally," Mayor Ken Shetter said.

But, churches and schools are exempt from property taxation, he said, where the fee is presently applied.

"That's a bit of a shock to the system," he said. "Particularly, some of our churches have tight budgets. It's the same with the school district. That is a big overnight change."

He's proposing a phase-in approach to those properties, if they are not exempted.

"I don't think we should exempt the city, no matter the exemptions we give to anyone else," Shetter said.

While some members of City Council appear to support a stormwater utility as a means to funding management of water runoff, one member does not.

"I have weighed against having a utility for a number of reasons," City Councilman Matt Aiken said. "So, I haven't considered exemptions."

Others appear to favor it for the equality it may provide.

"It certainly more fairly apportions cost," Shetter said. "I would like more information on what we achieve on each service level."

A higher payer in the utility fee structure would do so based on their "relativity to creating stormwater runoff," he said.

An estimated 14 percent of properties would qualify for exemptions, the study found, led by schools at 8 percent, city property at 4 percent and churches at 2 percent, if City Council granted exemptions.

Burleson Star

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