Gaithersburg has new stormwater management program in the pipeline -- Gazette.Net



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Gaithersburg’s new stormwater management program could involve changing the way stormwater fees are assessed on homeowners.

The billing model is just one of many alterations and additions included in a draft stormwater management program that was presented to the City Council Monday evening. Assistant City Manager Dennis Enslinger and Elizabeth Treadway, vice president of AMEC Environment & Infrastructure of Johnson City, Tenn., led the discussion on the program, which is based upon anticipated permit requirements that the city will need for its storm drain system

For the stormwater fee, the idea is to bill private owners based on every 500 square feet of impervious surface on their property, rather than the city’s current “Equivalent Residential Unit” model, which is assessed on all single-family and townhome residences on a flat cost basis. Detached single-family homes must pay $92.60 per year and townhomes are charged $30.56 annually, regardless of the amount of impervious space.

The estimated yearly charge under the proposed program for a 2,500-square-foot single-family home — the median size of homes in the area — is between $77 and $83. Enslinger warned both the council and the public that actual rates will be determined at a later date.

Changing the billing model would make the fees more equitable and appropriate for property owners, according to Treadway.

“Using imperviousness gives you the legitimacy of establishing a meter for your bill,” she said.

Aside from billing, Treadway suggested the city create a new position for a stormwater coordinator so staff and the community would have a key point of contact for stormwater-related issues. Adding staff or contracted services specifically focused on stormwater was also recommended.

Stormwater management duties are currently doled out to various city employees in different departments, Treadway said.

Another element the city needs, according to both Enslinger and Treadway, is an asset management system. It would allow the city to use data collection to better manage the stormwater budget and personnel resources.

“It’s an issue again across any number of communities of getting our arms around our infrastructure and really understanding its physical status...,” Treadway said.

In terms of stormwater facility inspections, the city is currently in charge of ensuring that facilities, even on private property, are inspected. Enslinger and Treadway suggested that private owners be required to inspect and certify that the facilities on their property are properly maintained to reduce some of the liability on the city’s end. In the past, Enslinger has said it is difficult for the city to conduct every inspection needed in a reasonable amount of time.

City Council members generally agreed with the change, but also voiced concerns about private owners and homeowners associations needing to take on the additional costs.

“I certainly think we should shift the inspections and we should find out if there’s a hardship and if we have to have a policy for that,” Councilwoman Cathy Drzyzgula said.

With regard to facility maintenance, staff suggested that Gaithersburg be responsible for the more than 45 existing city-owned facilities, leaving the replacement of more than 60 residential facilities in the hands of the private owners.

The mayor and council supported the recommendation, but several councilmembers said they would like to look at ways to help private owners or homeowner associations who are straddled with huge maintenance costs.

Councilman Ryan Spiegel said he was in favor of the suggestion, but thought the city should see if it can provide grants or other assistance to help ease the burden on private property owners.

Enslinger mentioned that the city could eventually decide to require private owners to update their facilities to meet the standards that were in place when the structure was built, and then step in to help retrofit the facilities to bring them up to current code. With the update complete, the city could hand back the maintenance responsibility to the private owner.

Given all of the changes and additions proposed, the estimated cost for year one of the program would be just over $700,000, Treadway said. The costs for years three, four and five are expect to be around $1.5 million, taking into account storm sewer replacement projects at city facilities.

Both Enslinger and Treadway are set to come before the mayor and council for further discussion May 27.

jedavis@gazette.net