Revenue stream seen in storm water runoff

Tuesday, December 23, 2008 5:11 AM EST
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NEW HAVEN — The city is considering setting up an authority on storm water management, a move that could mean tax-exempt entities would face fees for services for which they currently do not pay taxes.

City Administrative Officer Rob Smuts said at an informational meeting Monday that creating a storm water authority could have both environmental and financial benefits for the city, as some of the costs homeowners pay for storm water sanitation could move to tax-exempt groups such as universities and religious institutions.

Smuts hastened to add that tax rates would not go down, but that some people could pay proportionally less. The action also will most likely not have an effect on the 2009-10 budget, he said.

The city’s study for creating a storm water authority was mostly financed by the state, following legislation in 2007 to assist communities interested in the prospect. Norwalk and New London are also looking at the same idea.

The storm water authority could be an independent body, like the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority, a quasi-governmental group or a department within City Hall, Smuts said. The city is still analyzing details such as how a fee would be assessed, what benefits residents could receive for making water-runoff improvements to their homes and what incentives could be forthcoming from the state.

A storm water authority would deal with the water that runs into city sewers following storms. The amount of impervious surface — including pavement and structures — on a property affects how much water is absorbed into the ground or runs off into the sewers, meaning that the city could decide to give benefits or rebates to those with more water-friendly lots.

“The thing that we’re concerned about is runoff water, so if you have an open field, that pretty much absorbs all the water and there’s not runoff,” Smuts said. “If you have a paved parking lot, that’s all runoff.”

He added that the average residential property in the city has a 6,000- to 8,000-square-foot lot with 3,000 square feet of impervious surface.

Right now, funding for storm water management — which covers street cleaning, storm drainage and capital improvements — comes out of the general fund, meaning it is paid for with property taxes. The city spends about $4.75 million a year on its storm water program.

With a fee system, Smuts said, some of that burden could move off residential land owners.

“This would not make sense from a (tax) equity standpoint for our taxpayers if we did not have a tremendous amount of tax-exempt property, or if our industrial property did not have significantly more impervious surface than they currently pay in taxes,” he said.

Alderman Roland Lemar said the proposal seems to make sense for environmental and economic reasons.

“These are services that we are going to provide one way or another,” he said. “The mechanism that you’ve constructed here allows us to collect money from entities that we cannot currently collect money from.”

But Alderman Jorge Perez said he wants more information on how the fee would be assessed and what discounts people could receive for improvements such as reducing the pavement on their lots or buying rain barrels to collect water from gutters.

“I would definitely like a better understanding of, if we’re going to get credits, how we’re going to do that,” Perez said.

Smuts said that the proposal would come before the Board of Aldermen once many of the remaining details are determined.

“We want to do this now because we’re required to have an informational hearing before we do the report and also because we want to get people in on the ground floor, but we haven’t made any decisions,” he said.

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