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Date of Issue: March 19, 2008

Anna Maria ready to adopt stormwater fee

After more than two years of study, Anna Maria city commissioners at their March 13 work session unanimously agreed to adopt an ordinance creating a stormwater utility fee that will provide funds for the maintenance of current and planned stormwater drainage projects.

The final reading of the ordinance is scheduled for the commission’s March 27 meeting.

The commission heard from city engineer Tom Wilcox that the basic stormwater fee unit will be an Equivalent Stormwater Unit, with one ESU equal to 2,254 square feet of impervious surface on a property.

That amount is the “average” that Wilcox determined after examining the size of the structures on all 1,618 non-vacant parcels in the city.

Commissioners gave consensus to a $50 fee for a property owner whose structure occupies one ESU.

Wilcox said duplexes with separate parcel identification occupy, on average, 1,160 square feet of impervious surface and commissioners agreed these properties would be charged at a .51 rate ($25.50) per ESU. Condominiums would be charged .91 ESU, while vacant lots would be levied at a .21 ESU rate.

There was some discussion about charging owners of vacant lots, as Commissioner Dale Woodland lobbied that vacant lots already “improve our drainage.” Wilcox countered that many vacant lots don’t improve drainage, but all vacant lots will benefit from the construction and maintenance of drainage facilities.

The other three commissioners agreed with Wilcox. Commissioner Duke Miller noted that because the fee amount is set by resolution, the commission can always change the amount it levies.

Public works director George McKay presented a preliminary maintenance budget that called for $250,000 annually to properly maintain the present and future stormwater systems, but Wilcox quashed that, noting that he and his staff have not yet reviewed those figures. Many items in McKay’s budget should either not be part of stormwater maintenance or are not necessary, he said.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick opined that she was “uncomfortable” with a $250,000 stormwater maintenance budget for a city the size of Anna Maria.

Not to worry, indicated Wilcox. “I already see $40,000 that can come out” of this budget, he said.

His best estimate at this time was that between $80,000 and $90,000 was needed per year to maintain the system. A $50 ESU would generate approximately $83,000 annually in revenue for stormwater maintenance and commissioners quickly assented to this amount, although the actual resolution to create the fee won’t be read until the commission’s March 27 meeting — at the same time commissioners will hold the final vote on the accompanying ordinance.

Wilcox did say he appreciated McKay’s figures as he was asked to prepare a budget on short notice and put “everything” into those figures.

City treasurer Diane Percycoe noted that, by law, the accounting of expenses, income and maintenance related to the stormwater fee have to be maintained separate from other city revenues and expenses. The stormwater utility fee can only be used for stormwater maintenance and the city can’t borrow from other sources if there’s a shortfall in the maintenance budget.

The city will keep a tight rein on maintenance expenses, she noted. “We’ll have to pick and choose what fits our [stormwater] budget,” Percycoe said. “We’ll have to choose carefully.”

Absolutely, said Mattick, particularly the amount of man-hours the city has to spend on actual maintenance and for recordkeeping.

McKay said he believed he could do the required work with the present staff level.

Wilcox suggested that the commission review the fee schedule annually to determine if a $50 ESU is sufficient for stormwater maintenance.

City attorney Jim Dye chimed in to note that once property owners receive their bill, they can appeal to the commission if they believe the amount is unfair, but the owner “has to show that the city is wrong.”

There was no public comment on the ordinance or fee.

In other business, the commission postponed further discussion of proposed increases and additions to the fee schedule for the building department until new building official Bob Welsh of M.T. Causley Inc. has a chance to review the proposed fees with current building official Steve Gilbert. Welsh, who was the Anna Maria building official in 2000, now works for Causley and will handle building official duties under a contract between his employer and the city, Gilbert said.

The commission also agreed to hold a joint meeting with the planning and zoning board to discuss a definition in the revised comprehensive plan of “lot/structure” in the retail-office-residential district. Commissioners have been unable to reach agreement on the language in policy 1.3.5 of the future land-use element of the plan.

Commissioners also scheduled a meeting for 11 a.m. on Monday, March 24, to begin the budget process for fiscal year 2008-09.