Stormwater Workgroup Minutes

Augusta Stormwater Workgroup Committee

  • David Rollins Mayor, City of Augusta
  • William Bridgeo City Manager, Augusta
  • Ralph St. Pierre Assistant City Manager, City of Augusta
  • Ken Knight Board Chair, GAUD
  • Cecil Munson Trustee, GAUD
  • Sherry Kenney Finance Director, GAUD
  • Andy Begin, PE Assistant General Manager, GAUD
  • Jan Patterson Director, Property Management Division, State of Maine Bureau of General Services
  • Roger Pomerleau Developer

Report to the Trustees of the Greater Augusta Utility District By the Stormwater Workgroup  - December 18, 2017

Table of Contents

A. Recommendations 

B. Background

C. How is Augusta’s stormwater situation compare to the rest of the state?

D. Anticipated capital activity for GAUD

E. Lewiston as a possible model 

F. Allocating costs in GAUD’s system

G. How might the formula be changed?

H. How are responsibilities divided between the City and GAUD? 

 

A. Recommendations:

1) The Board of Trustees should engage a consultant to design a stormwater rate system that more accurately reflects actual stormwater-related costs.

The consultant should evaluate the logic and effects of:

a. Reducing the catchbasin fee to reflect actual catchbasin maintenance costs (around 10% of the current rate level;

b. Raising the ERU (“equivalent residential unit”) rate that bases its charge on the square footage of impervious surface on a site;

c. Reducing the residential ERU charge relative to other property classes, to account for the fact that lawns absorb some of the stormwater runoff from roofs and driveways;

d. Rationalizing catchbasin and ERU charges for the City of Augusta by excluding the City from catchbasin cleaning charges( since the catchbasins on city streets are actually owned by GAUD), but including the impervious surface ERU charge for city streets and sidewalks; and

e. Charging the Maine Department of Transportation for catchbasin work done by the District on state streets outside of the urban compact area.

The goal is to have a rate structure that is fair, predictable, and moderate in its year-to-year increases.

Explanation:

At present, about two-thirds of stormwater costs are paid for by an assessment on catchbasins, and about a third is paid for by a fee on the square footage of impervious surface on the property. Impervious surfaces include roofs, driveways, parking lots, streets, and the like. It is calculated by means of an “ERU” (equivalent residential unit), which comes to roughly 2,700 square feet.

The catchbasin-based system is based on an historic anomaly – it is the way costs were calculated decades ago, before stormwater was a major expense. It is not used by all cities, and where it is used it is not relied on so heavily. The City of Lewiston presented its program to the Workgroup; their charges are entirely ERU-based. Members of the Workgroup feel that the catchbasin approach has a number of flaws, including:

  • It “double counts” the effects of stormwater, charging for the runoff from the individual property (ERU), then for the same rainwater when it runs down the drain; 
  • It burdens the City of Augusta property taxpayers, since catchbasin charges to the City (for catchbasins owned by GAUD) pay for about a third of the stormwater budget;
  • It encourages commercial property owners to avoid putting catchbasins in their parking lots in order to reduce monthly fees – thus discouraging best engineering practices.

There is a logic for some catchbasin fee. The actual cost of cleaning catchbasins is about $219,000 a year, or around 10% of the current total catchbasin charge. It would make sense to have a catchbasin charge at about this level, reflecting actual costs. The Workgroup discussed the idea of getting GAUD out of the catchbasin-cleaning business entirely, and placing the responsibility on property owners; but the cost of the regulatory structure would be nearly as much as the cost of doing the maintenance and billing the cost, and not nearly as effective in controlling stormwater.

Under this user-fee based approach to catchbasins, GAUD itself would cover the cost of catchbasin cleaning on city streets, since in fact these catchbasins are owned by GAUD, not the City. On the other side of the coin, the City does own city streets, so these would be included in the ERU charge. The State Department of Transportation owns catchbasins outside of the urban compact, and to the extent that GAUD staff are cleaning these catchbasins, they should be charged like any other catchbasin owner.

This overall approach make sense from a technical and fairness point of view. However, this general approach, by itself, has the potential or increasing stormwater fees charged to individual homeowners by around 70%; at the same time, it would reduce cost of stormwater protection that the homeowner pays through the property tax, but even with this factored in, the net residential increase for stormwater protection could be around $50/house/year.

The Workgroup feels that there is some reason to consider a reduced ERU rate for residences. Individual houses often have lawns that absorb stormwater, which reduce the runoff impact on GAUD pipes and treatment plants.

All of these issues require technical study to see whether this approach makes sense, and whether it is practical to implement.

 

2) The GAUD Board should arrange a joint meeting of the Stormwater Workgroup with Charter Review Committee to discuss the how to clarify the boundaries of the GAUD district.

Explanation:

The GAUD enabling legislation states that GAUD should serve the residents of the entire City of Augusta for stormwater management. At present, GAUD is only serving – and charging – residents within the existing sewer system for such services.

In the future, federal and state regulatory pressures may make GAUD, in fact, responsible for stormwater management in the entire city. From this point of view, it makes sense for GAUD to expand its services to the entire city – including such services as catchbasin management, ditching, maintaining key culverts, etc.

However, it only makes sense to do this if the District also charges a monthly stormwater fee to property owners outside of the existing sewer system. Such a fee might generate up to $200,000 per year. However, it would create a shock to rural residents to suddenly be confronted with an $8/month fee for services that they hadn’t asked for. The Workgroup felt that the revenue gain was not worth the turmoil that such a new fee would create.

In the end, the Workgroup felt that there is an inconsistency between the legal authorizing language of the District and the actual practice. District board members are cautious about going back to the Legislature to change the charter, because the legislative process is unpredictable and could lead to unwanted consequences. This is a subject that needs more discussion.

3) Continue the practice of annual coordination between the Augusta Public Works Department and GAUD on capital improvements and maintenance planning.

Explanation:

GAUD and the City need to coordinate on capital improvements planning and maintenance activities every year. The Workgroup said that communication had improved greatly in the last year, and that this should continue.

4) Look at the impact of reallocating costs from old sewer pipe projects to the stormwater and sewer accounts in accordance with current practices.

Explanation:

In the past, GAUD allocated a third of project cost for sewer pipes to the stormwater account; recently, GAUD has changed this to allocate 100% of costs to the sewer account, and none to stormwater. City officials like these changes; however, they would like District officials to review past charges that were done under the old system, and see what the cost would be to the storm and sewer accounts if these charges were reallocated according to the newer method. The net effect of such changes would be to increase money in the storm account and reduce money in the sewer account. The former charges were reviewed and found satisfactory in the court settlement between Hallowell and the District, and going back and changing allocations might result in the District going back to court. City representatives acknowledged the difficulties, but want the Trustees to know about this issue. 

B. Background

In the spring of 2017, the Greater Augusta Utility district set up a Workgroup to look at issues surrounding stormwater rates. Members of the group included: Cecil Munson, Ken Knight, Dave Rollins, Roger Pomerleau, Jan Patterson, David Bustin, Bill Bridgeo, Keith Luke, Lionel Cayer, and Ralph St. Pierre. In addition, other attendees included Kirsten Hebert, Pat Paradis, and Meghan Cooper. Guest speakers included Mike Riley of DEP and David Jones of Lewiston.

The Workgroup was staffed by Andy Begin and Sherry Kenney of GAUD, and facilitated by consultant Frank O’Hara. The workgroup identified the following issues to address:

  • General coordination
    • Better communication
    • Reconcile budget calendars  
  • Work plan and costs
    • How can rates be stabilized?
    • Why can’t work schedule be slowed down? Is it too aggressive? 
    • Timing of east side 2022 project
    • Can there be better use of federal and state grants?
    • What creative financing might be possible?
    • Will fees go down when CSO projects are wrapped up?
  • Restructuring City-GAUD responsibilities 
    • Should stormwater responsibility go back to City?
    • Change boundary of district responsibility from urban compact to citywide
    • Change responsibility for maintaining ditches and culverts
    • Incorporate GAUD back into city government as an enterprise account?
    • What’s the Mayor’s role on the GAUD board?
    • Consider charter changes for both GAUD and City?
  • Changing the cost formula 
    • Learn from Lewiston?
    • Reexamine formula for allocating charges to storm and sewer accounts
    • Reconsider catchbasin cost formula

Consider charges to property owners who aren’t served The group met eight times between May and December 2017.

C. How is Augusta’s stormwater situation compare to the rest of the state?

To provide a baseline of facts on the situation, Mike Riley of DEP presented a powerpoint showing that GAUD had moved faster than other districts to address stormwater issues, but that the Augusta area still had significant stormwater challenges left to be addressed. Below is a summary of the key facts Mike presented, as well as comments made during the discussion by Workgroup members.

 

D. Anticipated capital activity for GAUD

Andy Begin presented a draft program to the Workgroup for capital improvements for GAUD from 2018 to 2022. At this point, there is $11.5 million in proposed activities, of which $4.8 would be billed to stormwater. Many of the projects are not a priority for GAUD, but come up in the City’s capital improvements program (such as improvements on Cedar Street), and it is more cost-effective for GAUD to make its sewer/storm improvements when the street is already open for construction.

Based on these estimates, Sherry Kenney presented one possible stormwater revenue scenario from 2018-2022. It included a 10% increase in storm rates in July of 2018, with stable rates thereafter. Debt service payments will drop from $1.2 million to $700,000 in 2022 when some existing bonds retire. A possible bond issue in the shorter term could be considered; it could be paid entirely from the sewer account for the first few years, then shifted more to the stormwater account in years further out when more funds are available there. She pointed out the difficulties present in residential collections for stormwater fees; unlike in the sewer and water area, GAUD has no authority to disconnect water due to unpaid stormwater fees. Customers are slower to pay, and a significant number are late each month. GAUD does have the authority to place a lien on the property due to unpaid stormwater fees, but this is a slow and expensive process for collecting generally small amounts of money.

City officials raised the question of whether GAUD might scale back its infrastructure program by a third or so. Perhaps Cedar Street could be put off for a few years.

 

E. Lewiston as a possible model

David Jones, the Public Works Director of Lewiston, presented a power point show to the Workgroup on how Lewiston manages and charges for stormwater protection. Lewiston’s stormwater utility is located within the city public works department, along with the sewer utility. In essence, it is the equivalent of an “enterprise fund,” like Hatch Hill in Augusta, with its own dedicated revenues. In Lewiston’s case, staff for the public works department, sewer utility, and stormwater utility are in many cases the same – the only difference is what account they bill their time to.

The stormwater district was started in 2006, in response to property tax pressures. The stormwater fee approach created a net reduction of $70 per year for the average household – because it allowed the city to charge tax-exempt properties. Still, it was a hard sell. Residents saw the $30 annual fee as “rain tax,” and it took a full year of explanation to taxpayers, one by one, before people became comfortable.

The system fee is based on impervious surfaces alone. There is no catchbasin charge. There are credits provided to people whose stormwater does not enter the city system, and discharges directly into the river. Homes are charged a flat fee ($60/year) and duplexes $90/year; the rest are charged $60 for the first 2,900 SF of impervious surface, and then about 6 cents for every additional square foot. The city is a customer and is also charged, but only for buildings and parking areas; public streets are considered part of the collection system, and are not counted in the impervious surface calculation.

The fee is charged citywide, not just in the urban compact area. The city’s feeling is that stormwater runoff in the rural areas eventually flows into the city’s sewer system before reaching the river, and therefore all should be charged. The fee covers ditch maintenance, catch basin repair, debt service, public education, and administrative and personnel costs. Capital projects that serve both stormwater and sewer purposes are generally split 50/50 in costs.

F. Allocating costs in GAUD’s system. Expenses from different functions are allocated between the stormwater and sewer accounts as follows:

CategorySewerStormwater
Treatment Plant63%37%
Pump Stations63%37%
Sanitary Pipes63%37%
Catch Basins0%100%
Storm Pipes0%100%
Customer Accounts84%16%
Admin & General58%42%

City officials raised three issues about the current practices:

1. The current practice is to allocate tank expenses 100% to the stormwater account, even though there is sewer overflow into those tanks. Should it be a 50/50 allocation?

2. On typical street reconstructions (Paterson Street in the past, and Northern Avenue and Gannet in the future) -- stormwater pipes are allocated 100% to the stormwater account, and sewer pipes are allocated 63% sewer/37% storm. Shouldn’t the sewer pipe allocation should be 100% to the sewer account in such cases, otherwise it is double-billing to the stormwater account?

3. Finally, if these changes are made for projects going forward, shouldn’t they also be made retroactively for projects already completed?

 

G. How might the formula be changed?

The workgroup considered many alternative cost formulas. Moving to an ERU-only system like Lewiston would increase residential fees by about a quarter. This was considered self-defeating. But a hybrid system with several change – a lower catchbasin fee, a lower residential rate, and the City paying for its ERUs on city streets – would lower residential costs by 10% and municipal costs by 18%. There would be an increased cost to commercial properties (18% stormwater fee increase offset by a 1% decrease in property tax); and higher costs to county (17%) and state (4%) properties (see tables below).

These figures are the equivalent of a “back of the envelope” calculation. To proceed with any reforms, the District needs to conduct a formal technical study of impacts.

H. How are responsibilities divided between the City and GAUD?

The GAUD enabling legislation states that the District should “provide a system of stormwater drainage for… the inhabitants of the City of Augusta.” The City of Augusta Code of Ordinances says that the Public Works Director has responsibility for all “culverts, ditches, sluiceways, etc.” except those connected to the GAUD sewer and storm system. In other words, the legislation implies that GAUD should be responsible for stormwater management citywide, and the City ordinances say that GAUD only has responsibility for stormwater in areas connected to its systems. This is a conflict.

The current distribution of responsibilities is shown below.

One idea would be:

  • GAUD take care of basins and closed systems anywhere in the City
  • GAUD take responsibility of Route 17 towards Togus, and charge MDOT for the work

This would require that GAUD charge a user fee to rural Augusta residents not currently on the sewer/water system. This would only raise modest revenues, and would be controversial. 

 

Letter to Board of Trustees: November 20, 2017

To: Board of Trustees of the Greater Augusta Utility District

From: Frank O’Hara, consultant

Re: Status report on Stormwater Workgroup

 

In the spring of 2017, you set up a Workgroup to look at issues surrounding stormwater rates. The group was asked to look at issues related to stormwater rate increases: how to even out large increases, how costs are distributed among various users, how the responsibilities of the District and the City of Augusta are divided, etc.

Members of the group include Cecil Munson, Ken Knight, Dave Rollins, Roger Pomerleau, Jan Patterson, David Bustin, Bill Bridgeo, and Ralph St. Pierre. In addition, other attendees have included Kirsten Hebert, Keith Luke, Lionel Cayer, and Meghan Cooper. Guest speakers included Mike Riley of DEP and David Jones of Lewiston.

The Workgroup is staffed by Andy Begin and Sherry Kenney of GAUD, and facilitated by consultant Frank O’Hara. The group has met seven times, and will have at least one more meeting. The group has not approved any final recommendations at this point, but their major conclusions to date might be summarized as follows.

1) The current stormwater rate structure should be reformed.

At present, about two-thirds of stormwater costs are paid for by an assessment on catchbasins, and about a third is paid for by a fee on the square footage of impervious surface on the property. Impervious surfaces include roofs, driveways, parking lots, streets, and the like. It is calculated by means of an “ERU” (equivalent residential unit), which comes to roughly 2,700 square feet.

The catchbasin-based system is based on an historic anomaly – it is the way costs were calculated decades ago, before stormwater was a major expense. It is not used by other cities. The City of Lewiston presented its program to the Workgroup; their charges are entirely ERU-based. Members of the Workgroup feel that the catchbasin approach has a number of flaws, including:

  •  It “double counts” the effects of stormwater, charging for the runoff from the individual property (ERU), then for the same rainwater when it runs down the drain; 
  • It burdens the City of Augusta property taxpayers, since city catchbasin charges pay for about a third of the stormwater budget; 
  • It encourages commercial property owners to avoid putting catchbasins in their parking lots in order to reduce monthly fees – thus discouraging best engineering practices.

There is a logic for some catchbasin fee. The actual cost of cleaning catchbasins is about $150,000 a year, or 15% of the current total catchbasin charge. It would make sense to have a catchbasin charge at 2 about this level, reflecting actual costs. The Workgroup discussed the idea of getting GAUD out of the catchbasin-cleaning business entirely, and placing the responsibility on property owners, but the cost of the regulatory structure would be nearly as much as the current arrangement, and not nearly as effective in controlling stormwater.

So the Workgroup is leaning towards recommending a system in which catchbasin fees are reduced to reflect actual maintenance expenditures, and ERU fees are increased to fill the gap.

Under this user-fee based approach to catchbasins, GAUD itself would cover the cost of catchbasin cleaning on city streets, since in fact these catchbasins are owned by GAUD, not the City. On the other side of the coin, the City does own city streets, so these would be included in the ERU charge.

Also, the Workgroup recommends that GAUD charge the MaineDOT for catchbasin maintenance on state roads outside of the urban compact area.

This all makes sense from a technical point of view. However, a new ERU-based approach, by itself would increase GAUD residential rates by 70%; at the same time, it would reduce stormwater costs through the property tax, but even with this factored in, residential costs would increase by around $50/house/year.

The Workgroup feels that there is some technical justification for considering a reduced residential rate per ERU by GAUD. Individual houses often have lawns that absorb stormwater, and reduce the net impact on the GAUD systems.

Therefore, the Workgroup is also recommending that, if the District goes ahead with an ERU-based approach, it also consider a reduced residential rate as part of the reform.

These issues will require additional in-depth study by the District, perhaps with a consultant hired for the purpose.

2) The geographic boundaries of the GAUD service area should be clarified.

The GAUD enabling legislation states that GAUD should serve the residents of the entire City of Augusta for stormwater management. At present, GAUD is only serving – and charging – residents within the existing sewer system for such services.

In the future, federal and state regulatory pressures may make GAUD, in fact, responsible for stormwater management in the entire city. From this point of view, it makes sense for GAUD to expand its services to the entire city – including such services as catchbasin management, ditching, maintaining key culverts, etc.

However, it only makes sense to do this if the District also charges a monthly stormwater fee to property owners outside of the existing sewer system. Such a fee might generate up to $200,000 per 3 year. However, it would create a shock to rural residents to suddenly be confronted with a $8/month fee for services that they hadn’t asked for. The Workgroup felt that it wasn’t worth the turmoil that such a fee would create to formally expand the district boundaries.

The Workgroup did feel that the boundaries of the District should be clarified. It is requesting that the Board authorize a joint meeting of the Stormwater Workgroup with Charter Review Committee in December to discuss the issue.

3) Coordination between Augusta Public Works and GAUD staff is improving.

GAUD and the City need to coordinate on capital improvements planning and maintenance activities every year. The Workgroup said that communication had improved greatly in the last year, and that this should continue.

4) The changes made in recent years to the way costs for tanks and pipes are distributed between the sewer and stormwater accounts are seen as positive.

City representatives like the changes, but would like to see the District review past charges that were done under the old system, and reallocate them to the storm and sewer accounts. The net effect of these changes would be to increase money in the storm account and reduce money in the sewer account. The former charges were reviewed and found satisfactory in the court settlement between Hallowell and the District, and going back and changing allocations might result in the District going back to court. City representatives acknowledged the difficulties, but want the Trustees to know about this issue.

The Workgroup will review a draft report at its next meeting, and if approved, the report will be submitted to the Board of Trustees in December.

 

Summary Notes from Stormwater Workgroup Meeting of October 17, 2017

Attendees: Cecil Munson, Ralph St. Pierre, Bill Bridgeo, Roger Pomerleau, Keith Luke, Andy Begin,Sherry Kenney, Lionel Cayer, Jan Patterson, Frank O’Hara (facilitator)

The GAUD enabling legislation states that the District should “provide a system of stormwater drainage for… the inhabitants of the City of Augusta.”  The City of Augusta Code of Ordinances says that the Public Works Director has responsibility for all “culverts, ditches, sluiceways, etc.” except those connected to the GAUD sewer and storm system.   In other words, the legislation implies that GAUD should be responsible for stormwater management citywide, and the City ordinances say that GAUD only has responsibility for stormwater in areas connected to its systems.  This is a conflict.

Riggs Brook Village points out the problem.  It is outside of GAUD’s existing system.  But it is projected to be a major development, with stormwater draining into Riggs Brook and ultimately into the public stormwater collection system and the Kennebec River.  Under the current arrangement, this is the City Public Works Director’s responsibility.

Another example is Whitney Brook in Mayfair.  Over the years, homeowners dumped grass cuttings into the Brook.  Then floods occurred.  Whose responsibility is it to remediate the situation?  GAUD, the City, the homeowners?

More examples were discussed on Windy Street and Capitol Street and Belgrade Road.   

One idea:

GAUD take care of basins and closed systems anywhere in the City

GAUD take responsibility of Route 17 towards Togus, and charge MDOT for the work.

The State pays the capital costs for replacement of stormwater management systems, but also pays for GAUD to do the same work; it’s double billing.

GAUD’s billing procedures are not consistent. GAUD maintains some catchbasins, even those not connected to its system, and doesn’t charge for it; and at the same time charges some on the system who do their own maintenance.

Should GAUD be responsible for ditching and culverts city‐wide?   

A memo of understanding between the City and GAUD would be helpful:

(1) Some user fee for everyone in Augusta

(2) GAUD maintains all catchbasins

(3) different cost if its simply cleaning, vs. clean and replace when needed. 

Frank OʹHara, frankomaine@gmail.com, 207‐592‐1788

A citywide charge would be a hard sell for the households in the city not currently being charged by GAUD for stormwater management.  In a perfect world, it makes sense for GAUD to be responsible citywide.  But practically, households would have a hard time understanding a new stormwater bill.

The consensus of the workgroup is to leave the arrangement alone.  It is not worth stirring up the trouble that will happen for an extra $100,000 of new stormwater revenue.  Change the legislation instead to reflect the current arrangement.

The workgroup is still interested in exploring an ERU‐only based charge system, like Lewiston’s, with differential residential rates.

The next meeting is November 14.

 

Attachment A: Summary Notes from Stormwater Workgroup Meeting of September 19, 2017

Attendees: Cecil Munson, Ralph St. Pierre, Bill Bridgeo, Roger Pomerleau, Keith Luke, Andy Begin, Dave Bustin, Sherry Kenney, Lionel Cayer, Jan Patterson, Frank O’Hara (facilitator)

Sherry reported that the GAUD board wanted this group to be called the Stormwater Workgroup rather than the “Stormwater Subcommittee,” since it was not actually a subcommittee of the board.

Sherry presented how expenses from different functions were allocated between the stormwater and sewer accounts. Ralph raised two issues:

1. The current practice is to allocate tank expenses 100% to the stormwater account, even though there is sewer overflow into those tanks. Ralph thinks it should be a 50/50 allocation;

2. On typical street reconstructions (Paterson Street in the past, and Northern Avenue and Gannet in the future) -- stormwater pipes are allocated 100% to the stormwater account, and sewer pipes are allocated 63% sewer/37% storm. Ralph thinks that the sewer pipe allocation should be 100% to the sewer account in such cases, otherwise it is double-billing to the stormwater account.

Ralph also said that if this correction is made for projects going forward, it should also be made retroactively for the past ten years by reallocating the depreciation schedules.

Sherry and Frank presented several alternative scenarios showing how costs would be redistributed if the District went to a cost formula based on ERUs only (like Lewiston), without charging for catch basins; and if stormwater fees were charged citywide, and not just within the District boundaries.

The alternatives show the greatest variation among households in the rural area. If the District went to an “ERU only” formula, and didn’t change its boundaries, rural households would see stormwater expenses (paid through property taxes) decline from $97 to $12. If the boundaries were changed to include rural areas, with the formula the same, stormwater costs (property tax plus GAUD fee) from $97 to $179 in the rural areas; if the boundary was changed and an ERU only formula applied, rural households would pay $213. Cecil said that such increases would be politically impossible to explain and sell.

Bill suggested looking at including streets as part of City ERU costs. Another idea raised was having differential rates for residential owners, both in urban and rural areas.

Several Committee members requested a map of the district boundaries and the urban service areas for the City.

The next meeting is October 17.

 

 

Summary Notes from Stormwater Subcommittee meeting of August 15, 2017

Attendees: Cecil Munson, Ken Knight, Dave Rollins, Andy Begin, Roger Pomerleau, Sherry Kenney, Jan Patterson, Keith Luke, Meghan Cooper, guest speaker David Jones of Lewiston, and Frank O’Hara (facilitator)

David Jones, the Public Works Director of Lewiston, presented a power point show on how Lewiston manages and charges for stormwater protection. Lewiston’s stormwater utility is located within the city public works department, along with the sewer utility. In essence, it is the equivalent of an “enterprise fund,” like Hatch Hill in Augusta, with its own dedicated revenues. However, in this case, the staffing for Lewiston’s public works department, sewer utility, and stormwater utility, are in Many cases the same – the only difference is what account they bill their time to.

The stormwater district was started in 2006, in response to property tax pressures. The stormwater fee approach created a net reduction of $70 per year for the average household – because it allowed the city to charge tax-exempt properties. Still, it was a hard sell. Residents saw the $30 annual fee as “rain tax,” and it took a full year of explanation to taxpayers, one by one, before people became comfortable.

The system fee is based on impervious surfaces alone. There is no catchbasin charge. There are credits provided to people whose stormwater does not enter the city system, and discharges directly into the river. Homes are charged a flat fee ($60/year) and duplexes $90/year; the rest are charged $60 for the first 2,900 SF of impervious surface, and then about 6 cents for every additional square foot. The city is a customer and is also charged, but only for buildings and parking areas; public streets are considered part of the collection system, and are not counted in the impervious surface calculation.

The fee is charged citywide, not just in the urban compact area. The city’s feeling is that stormwater runoff in the rural areas eventually flows into the city’s sewer system before reaching the river, and therefore all should be charged. The fee covers ditch maintenance, catch basin repair, debt service, public education, and administrative and personnel costs. Capital projects that serve both stormwater and sewer purposes are generally split 50/50 in costs.

The group discussed the disadvantages of Augusta’s catchbasin fee. It is “double-dipping,” charging a customer twice for the same runoff (already covered in impervious surface charge). It incentives people not to put in catchbasins, even in places where it would be best.   It hurts small businesses who put in a parking lot with a number of catchbasins, then find themselves with unexpectedly high bills.

The group asked the staff to prepare models of alternative fee structures that might cover the entire city and use only impervious surfaces in the formula (not catchbasins). Part of the consideration would be subcontracting ditching services to the city, and reimbursing them through the stormwater fund.

The next meeting of the subcommittee is September 19.

 

Summary Notes from Stormwater Subcommittee meeting of July 18, 2017

Attendees: Cecil Munson, Ken Knight, Ralph St. Pierre, William Bridgeo, Andy Begin, Roger Pomerleau, Sherry Kenney, Kirsten Hebert, and Frank O’Hara (facilitator)

Sherry Kenney presented information on the cashflow of the stormwater program in 2017. She pointed out the difficulties present in residential collections, where there is no lien authority. Customers are slower to pay, and a significant number are late each month.

Andy Begin presented a draft program for capital improvements for the district from 2018 to 2022. At this point, there is $11.5 million in proposed activities, of which $4.8 would be billed to stormwater. Many of the projects are not a priority for GAUD, but come up in order to support the City’s capital improvements program (such as improvements on Cedar Street).

Based on these estimates, Sherry presented revenue estimates from 2018-2022. There would be a jump in 2018, then flat rates thereafter. Debt service will drop significantly in 2022 when some existing bonds retire. A possible bond issue in the shorter term is under consideration, to be paid entirely from the sewer account for the first few years, then shifting more to the stormwater account in years further out.

Ralph said that he would like to see about a third or so less activity in the infrastructure program. Perhaps Cedar Street could be put off for a few years. Bill said that the City’s goal is to reduced impacts on property taxpayers by shifting costs to other users.

The next meeting will be August 15, where there will be a presentation by Lewiston Public Works Director David Jones.

 

Summary Notes from Stormwater Subcommittee meeting of June 20

Attendees: Cecil Munson, Jan Patterson, Ralph St. Pierre, William Bridgeo, Andy Begin, Roger Pomerleau, David Bustin, Sherry Kenney, Lionel Cayer, and Frank O’Hara (facilitator)

The second stormwater committee meeting involved an approval of a work plan moving forward, and listening to an informational presentation by Mike Riley, the DEP CSO Coordinator.

The Subcommittee approved the following meeting schedule:

Meeting

Topic

Outcomes

June 20

General perspective on stormwater management, the regulatory framework, and where Augusta stands in relation to other Maine communities (discussion with Mike Riley of DEP)

Informational

July 18

Augusta’s 3-5 year stormwater activities and cost outlook (presentation by GAUD officials)

General reaction -   is this a reasonable program?   Any issues need more study?

August 15

The formula for distributing stormwater costs (I)

Alternative approach – presentation by Lewiston officials

Informational

September 19

The formula for distributing stormwater costs (II)

Identify pluses and minuses of potential changes (drop catchbasin factor, shift sewer/storm distribution)

Recommendation: Should GAUD hire a consultant for a cost allocation study? If so, what issues should the study focus on?

October 17

Discuss the roles of Augusta and GAUD in stormwater management; discuss potential changes (change service area definition, change responsibility for doing different functions) and their positive and negative impacts

Recommendation:

(1) implementation steps for changes that are agreed upon

(2) procedure for reaching an agreement on issues that are unresolved

November 21

Review draft report to the Board of Trustees. The consultant will draft a report to the Board of Trustees for the Stormwater Subcommittee to discuss, revise, and approve.

Report to the Board of Trustees identifying recommended changes, and any further processes needed to resolve outstanding issues

 

Mike Riley presented a slide show on Augusta’s status. The following are some of the key facts and committee member comments.

Facts (negative shaded, positive highlighted)

Comments

1. GAUD has reduced CSO discharges by 90% from 1989 to 2016, from 73 mg to 7 mg

Bangor and Portland are much larger districts in terms of population and income, and they have far longer to go than GAUD in cleaning up.

2. Still, GAUD is the 7th largest CSO discharger in Maine in 2016

3. GAUD has separated the most linear feet of pipe of any district in Maine since 1989, around 450,000 linear feet.

This 80% abatement is the highest reduction rate in Maine.

4. Still, GAUD has 111,000 linear feet left to separate, the 6th highest in Maine.

5. GAUD has spent $52 million on CSO separation, the second highest of any district in Maine.

6. GAUD has discharged 330 million CSO gallons from 2000 to 2016, the 9th highest in Maine

 

7. GAUD has the ninth highest CSO expenditure per capita in Maine, $2,700 per person

The districts with higher per capita expenditures are all smaller, and many were helped by state grants available to communities with disproportionately high per capita costs.

8. GAUD has reduced its CSO locations by 41%, the 14th best reduction rate in Maine.

GAUD is on both sides of a river, unlike most districts in Maine. CSO discharges matter more than number of CSO locations.

9. GAUD still ranks second in Maine in terms of the number of CSO locations remaining (16).

10. GAUD had 713 CSO discharge events from 2000 to 2016, the 7th highest in Maine.

 

11. GAUD reduced CSO events from 80 in 1988 to 17 in 2016, a 79% reduction, the 19th best rate of reduction in Maine.

 

12. GAUD ranks 4th highest in terms of connected catchbasins in 2016; even though that is 64 less than 2000, the rate of reduction in other areas has been greater, so GAUD’s overall ranking has declined.

 


Summary Notes from Stormwater Subcommittee meeting of May 15

Attendees: Cecil Munson, David Rollins, Jan Patterson, Ken Knight, Ralph St. Pierre, William Bridgeo, Andy Begin, Roger Pomerleau, and Frank O’Hara (facilitator)

The first meeting concentrated on laying out the issues facing the District and City.   No decisions were made. The following is a list of issues raised and discussed:

  • General coordination
    • Better communication
    • Reconcile budget calendars
  •  Work plan and costs
    • How can rates be stabilized?
    • Why can’t work schedule be slowed down? Is it too aggressive?
    • Timing of east side 2022 project
    • Can there be better use of federal and state grants?
    • What creative financing might be possible?
    • Will fees go down when CSO projects are wrapped up? 
  • Restructuring City-GAUD responsibilities
    • Should stormwater responsibility go back to City?
    • Change boundary of district responsibility from urban compact to citywide
    • Change responsibility for maintaining ditches and culverts
    • Incorporate GAUD back into city government as an enterprise account?
    • What’s the Mayor’s role on the GAUD board?
    • Consider charter changes for both GAUD and City?
  • Changing the cost formula
    • learn from Lewiston?
    • reexamine formula for allocating charges to storm and sewer accounts
    • reconsider catchbasin cost formula
    • Consider charges to property owners who aren’t served

Based on the meeting discussion on Monday, and our conversation yesterday, here is a proposed schedule:

Meeting

Topic

Outcomes

1

General perspective on stormwater management, history and context, and where Augusta stands today (presentation by DEP)

Informational

2

Augusta’s 3-5 year stormwater activities and cost outlook (presentation by GAUD officials)

General reaction - is this a reasonable program? Any issues need more study?

3

The formula for distributing stormwater costs (I)

Alternative approach – presentation by Lewiston officials

Informational

4

The formula for distributing stormwater costs (II)

Identify pluses and minuses of potential changes (drop catchbasin factor, shift sewer/storm distribution)

Recommendation: Should GAUD hire a consultant for a cost allocation study? If so, what issues should the study focus on?

5

Discuss the roles of Augusta and GAUD in stormwater management; discuss potential changes (change service area definition, change responsibility for doing different functions) and their positive and negative impacts

Recommendation:
(1) implementation steps for changes that are agreed upon

(2) procedure for reaching an agreement on issues that are unresolved

6

Review draft report to the Board of Trustees.   The consultant will draft a report to the Board of Trustees for the Stormwater Subcommittee to discuss, revise, and approve.

Report to the Board of Trustees identifying recommended changes, and any further processes needed to resolve outstanding issues