Salisbury Council Favors New Stormwater Utility

SALISBURY — A dedicated stormwater utility in Salisbury is likely an “inevitable situation,” according to one City Council member, but the council also said it’s committed to making any such utility transparent and fair.
Salisbury has high benchmarks to meet when it comes to reducing the negative impact of stormwater in the city with both flooding and runoff.
“We’re looking at 24-percent reductions in nitrogen and almost 40-percent reductions in phosphorous by that 2025 [state] deadline,” said Michael Moulds, director of Public Works.
Some of the bulwarks the city currently has in place to combat stormwater are outdated. Storm drains on East Main Street are roughly 80 years old and nearing the end of their effectiveness. Replacing them from between Route 113 to Bishop Street would cost about $340,000. There are also dams in place to mitigate flooding that require significant upkeep.
“We’ve got a network of dams in the city that require investment to function properly and maintain safety for downstream property,” said Moulds.
Even as the old systems deteriorate the city is anticipating increased storm activity that would cause additional stress. Climate change could mean that former 100-year flood events might become more frequent or more devastating, according to Moulds.
“The rainfall from these storms is changing the basis for design of stormwater facilities in order to protect property and life from flooding,” he said.
Due to these factors, the city administration is proposing a dedicated stormwater utility to fund mitigation projects. The current plan would call for a $20 per ERU fee with the fee for non-residential properties to be based on the amount of impervious surface on the property. The fees would begin after Jan. 1, 2015.
In addition to directly funding projects the city hopes that having a dedicated utility will allow them to better leverage federal and state grants.
By and large, the council backed the idea of a new utility.
“Every time I hear about a stormwater utility as applied to Salisbury and think about the implications of not doing this I grow more and more convinced of the importance of the utility and how important it is for us,” said Council President Jake Day.
One area where there could be room for clarification is with how pre-existing stormwater improvements might reduce the fee a property has to pay. Councilmember Laura Mitchell wanted to make sure that properties that have made the effort to include stormwater management are given credit against their utility fee.
“We’re not giving credits at this point. Will they get those credits or are they going to be behind the 8-ball?,” she said. “Are they going to get less of a credit because they did it right the first time?”
Having some kind of credit system in place was also a priority for Day. Councilwoman Terry Cohen’s biggest interest is in including “some controls” to how the utility operates. The city has made mistakes in the past, she asserted, that left the public feeling shutout and treated unfairly. So while a stormwater utility is approaching certainty by this point, Cohen was adamant that citizens need to be kept in the loop at every stage.
“I think this is sounding like an inevitable situation but in terms of helping the public understand and know where it’s going because you know they have a reason to be leery when we start talking about implementing something like this,” she said.
The council agreed to move discussion on a possible stormwater utility to an upcoming legislative session.