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City of Muncie, Indiana
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Does your community need money to fix drainage problems or is your storm drainage system in need of repair and there’s no money available? Many communities have realized there are very few state or federal funding sources available for storm water projects. Did you know the Indiana Code allows a community to form a storm water utility where revenues can be generated for storm water projects? Read the following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for more information.
A storm water utility is a legal entity which can provide storm water management activities including administrative functions, planning, engineering, regulation, permitting, maintenance operations, and capital improvements. The storm water utility (like other municipal utilities) provides a method of generating revenue for these activities through user fees, which are assessed at a common rate. Rates are most commonly based on impervious surface area measurements.
Impervious surfaces are hard surfaces which prevent or limit the natural entry of storm water into the ground. When storm water hits an impervious surface, it runs off and does not soak into the ground. Runoff can generate high volumes of water and water flowing over a hard surface flows more quickly than water flowing over a vegetated surface. Runoff and storm water flowing quickly can cause flooding in areas when the water cannot disperse. It can also cause erosion in ditches and streams when the bare soil becomes exposed. Impervious surfaces include rooftops, streets, parking lots, sidewalks, driveways, patios, asphalt, concrete, compacted gravel, and other paved areas.
With increased amounts of impervious surface, more runoff is produced and it travels at higher speeds. This runoff picks up and carries pollutants to the storm water collection system and eventually to receiving waters (lakes, ponds, rivers and streams). Large volumes of quickly flowing runoff will also erode soil, damage plants, and cause waters to become clouded and murky with sediments.
Within urbanized areas, impervious surfaces tend to collect a variety of pollutants including cleaning products; paint; oil, grease, and toxic chemicals from automobiles; road salts; pesticides and fertilizers from lawn maintenance and gardening; pet waste; litter; and eroded sediments. Increased amounts of pollutants can harm fish and wildlife, kill native plants, contaminate drinking water supplies, and make recreational areas unsafe.
An “Equivalent Residential Unit”, or ERU, is a common billing unit for storm water utility fees. An ERU is a measure of the average amount of impervious surface area for a single-family residential property located in the city, town or county and will be used to assess storm water user fees. Much like a “kilowatt” serves as the basis for electrical utility, the ERU is the base unit for a storm water utility. Many communities across Indiana have established storm water utilities based on the ERU.
User fees are generally established according to the amount of storm water runoff that is generated from a property, commonly measured in proportion to the square footage of impervious area within the property. Impervious surface area measurements are converted to an ERU and then assessed a monthly fee per ERU. Below is an example of the annual revenue you could receive from your storm water utility fees.
Although some Indiana cities, towns and counties have user fees as high as $8 or $10 a month, most storm water utility user fees for a residential property in Indiana range from $3 to $5 a month.
The formation of a storm water utility requires time and resources, but the benefits of an established utility will outweigh required efforts. We have found four primary reasons why other communities have implemented a storm water utility.
The only disadvantage to implementing a storm water utility is the small monthly fee the community members will incur. With proper education regarding the management of a storm water utility, the rate payers will understand the many benefits to the public.
Educate! Educate! Educate! A carefully planned program and funding strategy is necessary to endure scrutiny and challenges to a storm water utility. Perhaps the most difficult task in the formation of the storm water utility is gaining the support from the public and substantiating its need. We have found the best way to inform the public of the importance and necessity of the fees is through education. By providing various avenues for education (We have included several suggestions for you in our Ebook.), the citizens will realize that storm water management is a community-wide concern similar to clean drinking water and adequate wastewater treatment and disposal. Without storm water management, the citizens would not be able to traverse streets, and ponding water could create health hazards and reduce property values.
In the Indiana Code, there are two options for managing a storm water utility. In the first option, you would create a storm water district (adopt IC 8-1.5-5) and form a Storm Water Management Board. In the second option, you enact user fees under current sewage works in accordance with IC 36-9-23.
Establishing a storm water utility may be the right thing for you to do within your community. As state and federal governments mandate communities separate storm and sanitary sewers and implement storm water quality management plans to protect the environment and public health, implementing a storm water utility provides a source of revenue and may place your community in a better position for receiving grants. Don’t watch your streets flood with every rainfall or your waterways fill with pollutants. Give serious consideration to establishing a storm water utility for your community.