Salisbury Council Talks Stormwater Utility Specifics

SALISBURY — Taking initial cues from both Berlin and Rockville, the Salisbury hammered out some more details on a possible stormwater utility this week but more meetings are planned before making final decisions.

The City Council looked at how the fees for such a utility could be collected, what kinds of credits the city could offer for progressive residents and the balance of private to public investment needed to address flooding.

“I have in my mind that ultimate goal that we have to meet by 2025 in reducing nitrogen to the Chesapeake Bay and how we’re going to get there,” Mike Moulds, director of Public Works, told the council Monday. “The best way to do that is to have projects completed and built.”

Tackling those projects would be easier with a dedicated stormwater utility and Moulds presented an early draft for what that could look like. The ordinance is still in its toddler stages but Moulds has worked on a lot of the framework.

One of the tenants of the ordinance would be finding ways to bring residents onboard with fighting stormwater flooding and runoff.

“The challenge that we have is that a lot of our stormwater is in private property hands,” Moulds said. “We can’t just fix what is in city-owned property. So we need to find ways to encourage those property owners to participate in these programs.”

To facilitate that, under the draft Public Works would have the discretion to share up to 50 percent of retrofit stormwater project costs on private systems with the caveat being that the city would first have to identify those systems as priorities.

In addition to occasionally stepping in to assist with private projects, another aspect of the proposed ordinance that residents will likely get behind is the idea of a credit which can be earned and then applied against any stormwater fees charged annually to a property. The council has yet to establish those fees but the end number will be based off of each property’s impervious surface area.

The proposal would have properties earn credits by improving their personal stormwater management to a certain level. A credit of up to 20-percent of the total fee could be earned by meeting quality and quantity marks under previous standards while doing the same under current standards would have a suggested cap of 50-percent.

Credit caps in the final ordinance could be lower or higher though the council showed uneasiness on offering a 100-percent credit for anything.

“I am personally opposed to a 100-percent credit,” said Council President Jake Day. “We all share quite a bit of the land and the city is part of the problem and part of the surface that we are trying to address. And that’s our roads, parking lots and city owned facilities.”

Public Works also looked at how any theoretical stormwater fee could be collected. There are a few options such as adding it to utilities or placing it on the tax bill to be paid as a lump sum. Pros and cons were weighed for both sides. With utilities fees might risk being ignored but with the tax bill having to pay the cost all at once could be a burden on some residents.

One final area the council explored was the impact of stormwater fees to residents. The idea is to make some consideration for financial hardship but Councilwoman Shanie Shields had additional worries about the fees being passed down from landlords to tenants. It can happen with utilities and Shields was afraid that it would be a big blow to a number of renters.

“A lot of water and sewer bills are not directly the responsibility of the tenant but they are reflected in the rent. There’s probably no way to stop that from happening,” said city attorney Mark Tilghman.

The council asked Moulds to come back for another work session this fall to continue to detail fee and credit options.