Chattanooga residents weigh in on possible stormwater rate increase
Severe weather could mean more flooding here in the Tennessee valley, which could pose a problem to our sewer system and drainage. It's something the city is working to fix, but the cost will come at the expense of taxpayers.
The last time stormwater fees were increased in Chattanooga was in 2009. City leaders say they can't go any longer without another increase to address infrastructure problems.
Jo Beyer, who lives on Memphis Drive, said she knew nothing about the proposed stormwater fee increase until we asked her about it. She said it would make it harder to pay for bills that already add up.
“Our water bill alone is like $30 every two months; just the water part is $30 every two month, but when we get the bill adding all of the other fees it's like $90 a month,” Beyer explained.
Right now, homeowners like Beyer pay a flat rate of $115.80 cents each year. It's included in an annual county property tax bill. As a part of his 2019 budget, Mayor Andy Berke has proposed a 9.8 percent increase per year, for five years.
“It would hit everybody, but it's going to hurt us because I mean sometimes it's hard to make ends meet,” Beyer said.
According to a city spokesperson, that means an average homeowner would pay $126.49 for the first year. By year five, they would pay $183.54. This will appear on a resident’s annual county property tax bill as a "water quality" charge or fee.
Justin Holland, an administrator with Chattanooga Public Works, says the fee is measured through equivalent residential units (ERU).
“On average, homes in equivalent residential unit Chattanooga contain 3,200 square feet of impervious surface," Holland said. This includes rooftops, driveways, concrete patios, etc. Therefore, the City set the ERU at 3,200 square feet. All other parcels (non-residential), such as gas stations, restaurants, industrial properties, etc., containing impervious surfaces are charged the annual fee for every 3,200 square feet of impervious surface on the property. For example, if a restaurant has exactly three times the amount of impervious surface as the average Chattanooga home, or 3 ERU's, their fee is $115.80 x 3 or $347.40 annually."
“That's quite a bit of an increase, I mean I guess they think doing it slowly might help out, but really, I mean it all adds up in the end and it's just too high,” said Beyer.
A 2016 study by Chattanooga Public Works, shows a rate increase is needed to maintain current drainage, provide clean water and prevent flooding.
“The risks of no increase are a reduction in services provided to residents by the City to address drainage and flood control problems. If funding for federal and state permit required activities are reduced, the City becomes a contributor to a problem rather than solving the problem," Holland said.
Flooding is something Beyer has experienced living on Memphis Drive.
“It overflows, especially with people at the end of the street. It overflows really bad down there and it has come up here where it's backed our ditches up to you,” Beyer said.
She said she understands a rate increase could help solve the problem, but she's hoping the city can find another way.
“It seems like they always tend to come up with the money somehow or another at the last minute," Beyer said. "Maybe they can find it somewhere else and not all of us that are paying a high enough bill already.”
Some city council members want to find another way too. They voted Tuesday to delay the budget process and give the public an opportunity to weigh in. A public hearing is set for July 19 at 6:00 pm at the City Council building.