SALISBURY — The University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center (UMEFC) presented the findings of its stormwater feasibility study for Salisbury to the City Council this week.
The resulting recommendations are similar to what towns like Berlin and Ocean City have been given with UMEFC Director Joanne Throwe informing the council that a steady revenue source will be crucial to implement stormwater improvements over the next decade.
Throwe reported, “$23.2 million dollars is needed over the next 10 years to support the required activities.”
Throwe suggested that Salisbury look to implement a stormwater utility, much like Berlin recently approved, that would provide a steady stream of revenue through residential and non-residential fees. The residential fee for Salisbury, based on 7,995 properties, would be $40 per year for the first four years, $45 per year for years five through seven and $50 per year for the remainder of the 10-year period. The fee would be flat, meaning that large properties would pay the same as smaller properties, as long as both are residential.
Non-residential properties, generally commercial, would be based on a variable fee that would change dependent on the number of ERUs a property contains. That fee would also work on a tiered system for the first two years until enough parcel data had been collected by the third year to calculate individual rates.
The first two years would be at a rate of $40 per ERU, which would remain constant for years three and four as well, though the tiered system would be abandoned for the individual property data. Years five through seven would be at $45 per ERU with the remainder of the 10-year period at $50 per ERU.
Even with those rates, Throwe admitted that there will be a need for grant or other supplemental funding to reach the $23.3 million projection. Luckily, a steady source of revenue can often be leveraged to make Salisbury more appealing for government grants.
“Very often the grant funding now is only available, maybe, with a match but with a dedicated funding stream you can leverage that in many ways,” Throwe said.
As for where that funding would go, there are several areas where UMEFC found Salisbury lacking in stormwater efficiency, though she commended the city for all that it currently has in place.
“Salisbury is doing a great job so I do want to start with that. But there is always room for improvement,” she said.
One area where Salisbury could apply dedicated stormwater funding is an overhaul of outdated infrastructure.
“Aging infrastructure: it’s the same story we’ve heard in a bunch of communities,” said Throwe. “Salisbury didn’t have as bad a problem as some other communities, but there absolutely is aging infrastructure.”
Besides fading infrastructure, Throwe noted that there are both increasing water quality expectations and stormwater management costs which lead to an enhanced need for operations and maintenance.
“We really encourage you to adopt at least some of our regulations,” she said.
Failure to act at all on stormwater could put the city in a rough spot, added Throwe. Communities are being held more and more accountable for pollution, runoff and other negative environmental impact.
“The last thing anyone wants is for an inspection or audit to happen and a fine of $34,000 or $35,000 per day,” she said.
However the city interprets the study, Throwe told the council that actual improvements that would reduce the negative impacts of stormwater would be entirely up to Salisbury. She encouraged the council to involve residents as much as possible in the process.
“They want to know what they’re getting for their service, always,” she said of citizens. “So it’s important to bring them into the decisions.”
To keep the community involved, Throwe suggested using a “transparent” and “practical” funding mechanism.
Salisbury is in a unique position as the only Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems Phase II municipality on the entire Eastern Shore. The distinction carries certain expectations over stormwater management and runoff prevention. She urged the city not to delay for years and to incorporate at least some of the recommendations made in the study.
“We don’t have a dog in this fight. We come out and we just evaluate knowing that we want to make it as fair and equitable as possible,” Throwe said. “And we want to make sure that there’s enough revenue generated annually to really deliver the desired level of service you need.”
The stormwater recommendations made by her team should be treated independently of Total Maximum Daily Loads and Watershed Implementation Plan requirements, added Throwe. Those will be separate endeavors that Salisbury will have to consider when looking for ways to reduce pollution and nitrogen running off into the Chesapeake Bay.