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City considers setting storm water fee

The Huntington Common Council is being asked to consider instituting a fee on every property in Huntington that would help pay for the management of storm water.

Dave Schoeff, the city's director of engineering, told council members on Tuesday, May 12, he'd like to study such a fee, which would give the city a dedicated fund to spend on storm water management.

Currently, Schoeff says, sewage fees are being used to maintain both the waste water and storm water systems. In this decade, he says, the city will have spent almost $7.7 million from the waste water fund to maintain the storm water systems - money that could have been spent instead on a deteriorating waste water system.

"I don't think anybody realizes how bad our system is," Schoeff says. "We've got stuff that's in really bad shape, but it's under ground. Nobody sees it."

Mayor Steve Updike agrees that major problems are on the horizon, and he says he wants to be prepared to handle those problems.

"We are a reactive city," Updike says. "When we have a problem, then we talk about what to do about it."

Updike says he'd rather see the city become proactive, preparing for problems before they occur.

Schoeff's proposal, which is in the preliminary stages, would impose a flat $3 a month storm water fee on all single family properties within the city.

The fee for all other properties in the city would be based on the amount of impervious surfaces - essentially, rooftops, parking lots and other hard surfaces that do not absorb water - on that property. Each 2,500 square feet of impervious surface would be billed at $3 a month.

In the equation proposed by Schoeff, a business whose building and parking lot covers one acre - 43,560 square feet - would be billed about $52.27 a month for the storm water fee.

Credits would be available for businesses and homes using approved methods to manage storm water runoff on their properties.

Schoeff says the $3 figure is not set in stone. He'd like consultants to study the proposal to determine what a fair fee would be. Many other communities already bill their residents for storm water management, with fees ranging from $1.95 a month in Nappanee to $18 a month in Berne, he says.

Updike says he's not opposed to a storm water fee, but would prefer a flat fee for all properties.

Because the fee is a user fee and not a tax, Schoeff says, it would be paid on all properties within the city, including churches, schools and government-owned property.
Council members are expected to further discuss the proposal next month.

"If they're not willing to entertain this, we're going to throw it out," Schoeff says. "I wish we didn't have to ask, but that's where we're at."