In addition to the planned increases to its property tax rate and utility rate, Sherman is considering implementing a monthly stormwater utility fee for residents.
During its budget workshop Thursday, the City Council discussed options for the stormwater utility fee, which would allow the city to address capital project needs related to runoff from significant storms but didn’t come to an agreement on what that fee should be. At the council’s request, city staff will prepare different options of what projects could be accomplished with different fees and present those at a future council meeting.
“We’ll come back with a few more options and talk about, if we did this, here’s what the impact would be,” City Manager Robby Hefton said to the council. “We’ll not only paint a picture of here’s what the fee will be but here’s what we think we can do with that fee and give some examples of projects.”
City staff was recommending the inclusion of a three-tiered fee structure in the 2017-2018 city budget that would have raised $1.375 million for projects identified from the Post Oak Creek Flood Protection Plan and the addition of a four-person stormwater crew to be added to the Public Works Street Department. However, multiple council members felt the $1.90 monthly rate for residents with the smallest residential areas was too high.
“Smaller properties would pay one rate, largest properties would pay the highest rate and the middle property would pay something in between,” Stormwater Manager Trey Shanks, of consulting firm Freese and Nichols Inc., said to the council. “A smaller house would be paying about 62 percent of what the average house would pay. The largest property would be paying about 83 percent more, but they’re having more impact.”
The fee would be based on how much of an equivalent residential unit, which works out to 3,400 square feet of impervious area, each property had. Residential customers would have the three tiers — with tier two residents paying $3 a month and tier three residents paying $5.50 per month — and nonresidential customers would pay $3 a month for each EAU its property takes up. As an example of the latter, Shanks explained Whataburger would have eight EAUs and would pay $24 a month, while Wal-Mart would have 235 EAUs and would pay $705 a month.
“Smaller houses, which typically would be those on fixed incomes perhaps, they would pay the least amount of anybody, generally speaking,” Hefton said. “And roughly that equates to about 20 percent of the population. The middle 60 percent of the population pays the middle rate and then the top 20 percent — so the bigger houses and bigger lots and more driveways — they pay more. The essence of this is how much runoff are you putting in the system that we have to deal with. So if that’s the case, there’s a lot of logic to saying the more runoff you put in, the more you should have to pay.”
Shanks also presented a flat rate option where all residents would pay the same amount, but that option wasn’t discussed much.
Mayor David Plyler expressed concern for residents on fixed incomes, noting the $1.90 tier one fee doesn’t seem like much, but the city is also planning property tax and utility rate increases. And council member Shawn Teamann also expressed reservations about asking residents to pay a new fee.
“I don’t want to just create another fee that’s really just another tax — that we’re just taxing people for things we should be taking care of anyway,” Teamann said. “I know this it’s on the water bill and I’m all about everyone paying their fair share to take care of the city and stormwater, but I don’t want to start creating more and more fees and start tacking on to the citizens.”
Hefton told the council it was city staff’s recommendation the stormwater fee be implemented, but said the decision was ultimately up to the council members.
“It’s got to be meaningful enough to make a difference — we’re not just looking for a creek cleaning crew,” Hefton said. “We’re looking for the ability to do some long-needed projects that we haven’t had a way to pay for up till now. If there’s not an appetite for the program, we don’t have to do the program.”
Though Deputy Mayor Jason Sofey was absent from the meeting, the majority of the council expressed a desire for the program.
“This is a real issue in Sherman,” Assistant City Manager Steve Ayers said to the council. “This is a real issue of safety, infrastructure and getting somewhere we need to be as far as stormwater. This is a real issue that needs to be addressed. We put it off for years.”
City Engineer Clint Philpott started the presentation on the stormwater utility fee by reminding the council of the impact major flooding had on the city in 2007. That flooding event shut down U.S. Highway 75 for eight hours and flooded 89 single-family homes, 270 apartment units and 40 commercial properties. The city also saw two fatalities from the flooding.
“They estimated that to be a 50- or 60-year event,” Philpott said. “Most of the stuff we design for now is a 100-year event. You take what happened there and think about it being even worse, that’s what we try to design to currently. After that event there was obviously a lot of talk about how can we improve this, how can we make our roads safer for emergency personnel, how can we help control what’s being built in the flood plain.”
The Post Oak Creek Flood Protection Plan was created in 2013 and the city has identified 42 total capital projects that need to be done at an estimated cost of $56.2 million, which is why the stormwater utility fee is being proposed.
“Since that time, we’ve actually worked toward completing some of those, but we’ve been very limited with funds,” Philpott said. “So the other option was to do a stormwater utility fee, which a lot of other cities have. That’ll give us a new bucket of money to help more effectively handle some of these flood plain problems.”