BERLIN– Stormwater fees in Berlin will double in September following a decision by the town council this week.
On Monday, the Berlin Town Council voted 3-1 to increase the residential stormwater fee from $50 a year to $100 a year effective Sept. 1. The increase is meant to fund capital projects that the stormwater utility hasn’t had funding for during the past four years.
“We’ve been looking at a stormwater fund with no investment in capital projects,” Mayor Zack Tyndall said. “We hear that as one of the chief complaints from the residents, that our streets are flooding and our stormwater system is not up to par.”
While the town is using some of its American Rescue Plan Act funding to focus on stormwater projects, a resolution doubling the annual stormwater fee was up for consideration Monday.
The resolution doubled the residential rate and increased the non-residential rate to $35 per ERU (equivalent residential unit) annually with a minimum of $100.
Tyndall said the increase would cover capital projects that have been identified previously but the stormwater department hasn’t been able to pursue because of its lack of funds.
Resident Marie Velong said she didn’t feel the proposed rates were fair. She said it seemed like in some cases residents paid more than businesses. She added that as more houses had been built in her neighborhood, she’d seen stormwater issues increase.
“I’ve been here 48 years,” she said. “My property has only gone and sunk because of the houses around me.”
Flower Street property owner Gabe Purnell said the town seemed to lack stormwater planning.
“It’s scary as hell what I’m hearing,” he said.
Purnell said the town had permitted a major construction project on Maple Avenue and yet wasn’t taking care of the drainage issues that already existed in that neighborhood.
“All the water drains to the east side…,” he said. “It’s sad. Nobody’s doing anything about it.”
He added that his wife, Worcester County Commissioner Diana Purnell, had looked into the matter and determined the ditch causing problems belonged to the town.
Town staff however said that when they’d researched the issue they found the tax ditch in question was the responsibility of the county.
Purnell remained adamant the town could have done more to address flooding there. He added that the town would have allowed a second major construction project on Maple Avenue if residents hadn’t come out and voiced concerns.
“The east side, you don’t give a damn about it as far as I’m concerned in some cases,” he said.
Councilman Dean Burrell said different people had different perceptions.
“I perceive there are good things going on in the east side of Berlin,” he said.
Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols said she’d met with Maple Avenue residents and tried to help with the situation.
“Due diligence don’t stop in Snow Hill,” she said. “We try very hard to do that here. I live on the east side, born and raised, and until the day I leave this place meaning in a casket I am going to do my due diligence for the east side. It’s wrong to say we don’t do a damn thing because we try every day to do so.”
Purnell said he just wanted to see something get done to alleviate the flooding in the area.
“Let’s do something about it,” he said.
Resident and Berlin business owner Steve Green, who pointed out that his commercial stormwater bill was four times what his residential bill was, asked how much additional review the increase would bring the town.
Staff said the increased fee would bring in $75,400 from residences and $48,000 from businesses.
The council voted 3-1, with Councilman Jack Orris opposed, to approve the fee increase.