York County can have cleaner water, construction complying with environmental rules, better flood prevention. But it’s going to cost.
York County may add a new stormwater utility fee to fund rising environmental compliance costs.
Consulting firm Woolpert already completed a feasibility study. Public outreach is next, with York County Council likely to decide on whether to begin the fee early next year. Audra Miller, county planning director, said a new stormwater utility fee would meet several stated council goals.
“The main one being to address growth and how to pay for growth,” she said.
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Woolpert engineer Hal Clarkson said the 118 miles of pipes and drainage, culverts, ditches and ponds in York County have a cost now. It will only increase.
“Your system is growing,” Clarkson said. “As growth continues, so does your system. Any of your pipes that were put into the ground back in the ‘50s and ‘60s are now reaching the end of their useful life. And those put in in the ‘70s and ‘80s are fast approaching (that).”
Environmental regulations are tightening, too. Keeping up with the federal Clean Water Act and state Erosion and Sediment Reduction Act, Pollution Control Act and permitting requirements is a growing challenge.
“York County has some wonderful natural resources — Broad River, Catawba River, Lake Wylie,” Clarkson said. “In fact you have a drinking water source here that obviously you want to protect. Doing so costs money.”
Now, the county spends about $870,000 annually on stormwater-related costs. Counties of similar size can spend $3-$6 million. The recent study found York County will need an average of $4.23 million per year for the next five years.
Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Rock Hill all have stormwater utility fees. So do 96 percent of the Southeast communities similar in size to York County. Lancaster County added one this year. Rock Hill generates about $3.9 million annually, Clarkson said, compared to $1.2 million Lancaster County, $710,000 in Fort Mill and $480,000 in Tega Cay.
Other communities, like Richland and Spartanburg counties, still pay stormwater costs out of general fund revenue.
Who pays, and how much?
Fee costs are based on rooftops, asphalt, concrete — most all impervious surfaces creating runoff by keeping rain from soaking into the ground.
“It’s based on your contribution to the issue,” Clarkson said.
Based on national averages, costs could range from $60 a year for a homeowner to $420 for a small business, up to more than $8,100 for a large industrial site. York County costs haven’t been determined. It would take about that $60 annually from York County homeowners to generate the needed revenue, more for larger sites.
“It just depends on, again, the amount of impervious area,” Clarkson said.
Unlike a tax, groups like churches, schools and other exempt agencies wouldn’t get a pass on the fee. Only farm lands, by state law, are exempt.
“Under an enterprise fund, everybody pays,” Clarkson said.
County Councilman Michael Johnson has a similar concern to one raised in recent years as municipalities looked at development impact fees.
“My issue is, when you tax a school, what you’re really doing is you’re taking tax dollars from one pot and simply just moving it to another governmental entity pot,” he said. “It’s still tax, it’s all tax dollars.”
A former school board member in Fort Mill, Johnson doesn’t like that approach.
“As a taxing entity, I hate doing that,” he said. “I hate going to a school district and saying, ‘now cough up eight, nine thousand dollars because you’ve got a high school.’”
The increase on regulations isn’t likely to stop soon. Clarkson is seeing new rules coming on monitoring impaired, or environmentally subpar, waterways. The next step would be requirements on how to fix them. Then there is the challenge of community growth itself.
“When you have increased urbanization, you see increased flooding,” Clarkson said. “Which means that you have a need for upgrading the size and capacity of your system.”
Roads aren’t typically factored into the fee, but private ones could be. Homeowner associations with pools, clubhouses and similar structures could have those amenities worked into the fee they pay, which gets back to homeowners within the subdivision.
Another issue is how to bill the new fee. Some communities send it with water and sewer bills, others on tax bills.
“The water and sewer bill probably is the easiest,” said Councilman Chad Williams, “but we’ve got a lot of folks out there that have impervious surface that don’t have water and sewer.”
As for schools, municipalities can set up fee credits. Schools could teach classes on stormwater management, for instance, and get some defined credit toward the bill. A business installing extra sediment retention areas or drainage systems might, too.
In explaining to council the reason for the stormwater utility study and potential fee, county staff note challenges they’ll face if they don’t pass a fee, too. The county is reactive when it comes to stormwater control measures, and doesn’t “adequately plan for the maintenance of stormwater infrastructure” now.
The new fee could pay for the environmental compliance division and other tasks handled by the public works and engineering departments.