Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Stormwater schemes appetite outpaces revenue

Regrettably, my February 2008 comedic blog on Snellville’s implementation of a Stormwater Utility has come true and more horrific than I had anticipated. This horror story became worse at 7 p.m. on Friday night, June 29, when the City met to adopt a new budget fueling the monster’s appetite to greater heights of taxpayer carnage.

With the news from the U.S. Supreme Court this week that mandated health care coverage is indeed a tax, not a penalty or fee, we readily understand, as we always have, that mandated stormwater is also a tax, not a fee. So, the politicians that set up this segregated fund, established the tax, while promising not to raise your taxes treated you little better than the Feds. At least the Feds don’t threaten to lien your home, as the city does, if you fail to buy health insurance – at least not yet.

As anticipated at inception and suggested in my prior article on this subject, administrative costs are excessive, yet the City bureaucracy fails to efficiently execute the improvement program presented to justify the tax in the first place. The scare tactics used to justify this monstrosity packaged as an immediate need for $1.9 million in repairs have not been completed, nor has the City crumbled as a result. As feared, the program is growing as evident by the City's planned transfer of nearly $100,000 more from the General Fund in addition to the $530,000+ per year collected in the Stormwater Utility fund this year to feed the growing monster. [More reasonable heads prevailed and prevented the transfer, not the growth.]

Even more frightening is my prediction for where this monster will feed four years from now. I firmly believe the next sequel to this horror story will be a stand-alone Stormwater Department in the City with a Director level bureaucrat and full-time staff focused solely on spending those tax dollars funneled needlessly into their department. The Department will require more people, more benefits, more equipment, more fuel [Interestingly, staff nearly failed to budget fuel for the growth in equipment acquired this year.], more overhead, more office space, more tools, and much, much more of your money. Unfortunately, you’ll realize little difference in benefit as the result.

February 2008 article reprinted below:

Stormwater scheme spreads to Snellville
Our city fathers (and mothers) are set to adopt a Stormwater Utility Ordinance on Monday, February 25, 2008 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. The consultant that prepared the research in support of the tax [I apologize, it is a fee. Well that certainly feels much better to my wallet.], will make a presentation at 5:30 p.m. in advance of the meeting.

I have many issues with these so-called stormwater fees and I've voiced my concerns to elected, staff, and consultants. Rather than rant on my philosophical objections to such a revenue scheme, I'll address a few issues specific to Snellville's proposal. My comments are in response to details contained in three documents available at the City of Snellville
website titled Stormwater part 1, Stormwater part 2, and Stormwater part 3. They're quite similar to a horror movie with increasingly frightening sequels.

In Stormwater part 1, the monster first appears in the grotesque form of stormwater
 runoff. Our hero, the City responds, however, not by attacking runoff, rather by taxing [darn it, sorry again, levying a fee on] impervious surface (that's the roof above your head). What is really scary is that the fee is determined by adding up staff time (the City Manager will spend three times as much time on stormwater issues than the Public Works Director if you believe the research - I don't), administration and regulatory costs, operations and maintenance, and capital investment (that doesn't increase a cent from existing investment according to the initial proposal). Stormwater part 1 concludes with a most frightening scene claiming 55% of fees go to capital investment, operations and maintenance. The remaining 45% of fees going to overhead, regulatory compliance, and bureaucracy that sustains the creature to terrorize again.

And terrorize he does. In Stormwater part 2, we are frantically attempting to escape failing pipes, damaged catch basin lids, sinkholes, and illegal dumping. This monster we've created requires an estimated
$1.9 million in immediate repair or replacement. See, isn't it getting scarier?

As our terrorizing trilogy ends, Stormwater part 3, scares the beejeebees out of me and I haven't gotten beyond the title yet, "Future SWMP Funding Strategy". This monster is planning future expenditures that will mandate future fee increases
 [I did not say tax increases - I'm catching on to the lingo now]. Most horrific is that the scheme raises only $271,000 more than current revenues to address the immediate needs as it dangerously replaces existing general fund investment in public works with the new stormwater utility fund thereby increasing the monster's appetite by over$400,000 for new general fund spending on as yet unaware victims.

One thing is for sure, this
 Stormwater Utility Ordinance is scary stuff and not for the "little ones."

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