SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County will consider creating an Urban Service District to address private drainage issues.
Throughout the month of March, the public works department held a series of community meetings to identify where in Wicomico County drainage problems occurred and how the county could resolve those issues.
Public Works Director Dallas Baker told the Wicomico County Council on Tuesday that a majority of residents who submitted comments after the meetings – particularly those in central Salisbury, east Wicomico County and Bivalve – attributed recent flooding issues to unkempt private drainage systems.
“The majority of citizens felt that their ditches needed to be cleaned out,” he said.
In an effort to bolster the county’s stormwater system, Baker suggested the county establish an Urban Service Commission for drainage. He said communities can petition the commission to have their ditches cleaned. The associated costs, if approved by the homeowners, would be passed on to the property owners’ tax bills.
“It gives us the most bang for our buck,” he said.
Baker noted the process would require the help the of a private contractor, as the public works department would not have the equipment or manpower to clean the private ditches.
“The hiccup is how does the county fund those private ditch cleanups …,” he said. “That is what we are working through right now. Once we have that process in place we will be presenting this to the owners.”
Councilman Joe Holloway questioned why the county would create an Urban Service Commission for private ditches instead of focusing on county drainage systems first.
“I understand what you guys are doing here and what your approach is, but we have to get our end of the problem taken care of,” he said.
Baker, however, argued the county could tackle both issues.
“It doesn’t have to be one or the other,” he said.
Baker said an Urban Service Commission would benefit communities with defunct homeowners’ associations that wanted to solve their flooding issues. He noted that many homeowners in communities failed to pay fees or contribute money to maintain nearby ditches.
“People next to the ditch have a vested interest, but if you are four or five houses up and your house wasn’t getting flooded, they don’t care,” he said.
Council President John Cannon asked if Urban Service District properties that feed into nearby tax ditches would have to pay two fees for ditch maintenance.
“What’s the distinction between properties that are on the tax ditch roles and this Urban Service District plan?” he said.
Baker explained some properties that utilize a tax ditch and petition the commission to maintain private drainage systems would have to pay both fees.
“In some cases there is overlap,” he said.
Council Attorney Robert Taylor questioned if the county’s tax ditch association could be expanded to include ditches within the affected communities.
“Could the tax ditch association be expanded to include those other areas?” he said.
Baker argued that some communities with unkempt drainage systems did not feed into a tax ditch. He said an Urban Service Commission for drainage would ensure those outside the community would not incur extra costs.
“It’s more localized to the folks who are impacted,” he said. “Not everybody in the tax ditch needs to have their ditches cleaned out.”
Councilman Marc Kilmer agreed. He said including affected communities onto tax ditch rolls would take years to complete.
“It would probably be easier than going through a long, complicated process with the tax ditch association,” he said.
Baker clarified that communities wishing to petition the proposed Urban Service Commission would need the consent of their homeowners to proceed.
“It is not a mandate. It’s not a tax,” he said. “It’s us trying to find a way to help them.”