SALISBURY –The city’s stormwater infrastructure has gone ignored for over 100 years, and as the system continues to fail causing flooding and impacting surrounding waterways the city takes a stand by forming a Stormwater Utility Fund.
On Monday evening, an ordinance to establish a Stormwater Utility under the direction and supervision of the Public Works Department and further establishing a Stormwater Utility Fee System came before the City Council for approval in its second and final reading.
The ordinance furthers an annual service charge, or Stormwater Utility Fee, will be imposed on property owners starting July 1 to fund the Stormwater Utility. Currently, the average fee being proposed comes to about $20 a year being based on a property’s amount of impervious surface.
The only opposing public speaker of the night was Salisbury resident Kay Gibson, who viewed the fee as another tax.
“We are already paying for this service through our property tax. We don’t need you all putting your hands in our pocket,” Gibson said. “Bottom line is you need to look at the neighborhoods in Salisbury…you need to know how many houses are not selling, how many houses are vacant, and how many houses are becoming derelict. It is happening because you all are constantly increasing taxes.”
Salisbury resident and engineer Matt Drew, who has been involved with the progress of the ordinance that was first put on the table a year ago, was pleased to see how far the ordinance has come.
“The last time we did a major look at this in my mind there was some pretty serious gaps in terms of the way this proposed ordinance was going to be fairly implemented and I think this revised ordinance goes a long way for improving the overall fairness,” he said. “In particular, one of the concerns that I had was there wasn’t any distinction made between properties that had existing stormwater management systems versus properties that didn’t do anything to properly manage stormwater. There are certainly some improvements in the language that address that inequity.”
Dr. Judith Stribling, who serves as an advisor to the Wicomico Creek Watchers, presented the Wicomico Creek Watchers 2014 Report illustrated a dramatic effect of stormwater on the Wicomico River’s water quality.
“Wicomico River used to be the number one bath and fishing river on the bay. It was a major destination and important recreational water body but the water quality has declined to the point where that is no longer the case,” she said. “I salute the City and Mayor Ireton for the efforts to make the river fishable and swimmable … I commend you for taking this on as a service to the citizens of Salisbury. This will increase their property values and the quality of life.”
According to Salisbury resident Mick Haensler, the most sought after residential communities have access to clean waterways.
“Most of the top communities have done drastic things to improve the quality of their waterways, including access, swimability, fishability, just making it a more cleaner, safer environment, and I think that is something that Salisbury is starting to take a hard look at,” he said. “This particular ordinance goes a long way to send a message to surrounding communities that Salisbury being the largest municipality on the Eastern Shore takes their contribution to the pollution of our rivers and bays very seriously.”
Erik Fisher of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation applauded the city for getting the ordinance to its final voting stage after first being proposed over five years ago. He held up a prioritized project list where the Stormwater Utility Fee will be put to use.
“This is really an initiative that is coming from the community, and it is recommending a proposal like program that it will stay in the community, and allow the community to be in control of its own destiny when it comes to stormwater and controlling polluting runoff,” he said. “We know what is going to be funded by this money. We know which neighborhoods and problem areas in terms of polluted runoff we can address…this is a very responsible step the council is taking, and I applaud you for that.”
Councilwoman Shanie Shields has found herself stuck in the middle in deciding on a Stormwater Utility, however in personally witnessing failing infrastructure and flooding in the neighborhoods, on top of a 20 year flood study that resulted in many neighborhoods falling in flood zones she found herself favoring the ordinance in the end.
“This has been hard for me because I look at the citizens in our community who are on fixed incomes, and they may not understand what you’re trying to do, so when you try to convince people why we need this fee it is a hard sell,” she said. “This is a serious issue. We need to educate our people on this fee, and explain to them why we need this. I see both sides of the coin but the good outweighs the bad and with proper education it will overcome.”
The council voted unanimously to establish the utility and further establishing a Stormwater Utility Fee System in its final reading.
The next steps are Eastern Shore Regional GIS Cooperative will complete impervious area work by Dec. 1, Public Works will conduct a fee analysis by Jan. 16 and the work session to set the fee will be held on Feb. 2.