City residents could see a new Tega Cay Stormwater Utility fee on their tax bills in October.
Owners of single-family homes and commercial property will pay $96 a year, at least for the first few years, according to city officials. The revenue the city collects will pay for the new Stormwater Utility Department now being set up. The fee may increase, however, as the department expands.
"Initially, no new staff will be required," City Manager Grant Duffield said. "Some existing staff will have some extra responsibilities and we'll add staff over the coming years."
Tega Cay had to create the new department to comply with state and federal regulations. The department will be responsible for maintaining the city's compliance with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which seeks to improve water quality. It hired AMEC Earth and Engineering as a consultant on the project for $115,000.
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"We can hold it (the expense) flat and cover the costs over three years," Keith Readling of AMEC told the city council recently.
AMEC surveyed approximately 100 residential properties in the city, measuring the square footage of every impervious surface, including rooftops, driveways, parking pads and any other man-made structure on each property. Those surfaces are responsible for the majority of storm runoff on the properties. Contaminants in runoff, such as animal feces, affects water quality.
The total cost of starting the utility is estimated at $328,570, according to AMEC's projections. Of that, the city is already spending approximately $199,056, or 58 percent, on things the new utility will take over. The remaining $129,514 will come from new capital outlays and maintenance, and from a public education program to inform residents about the new utility department.
The annual cost of running the new department is expected to level off at approximately $432,812 by the fifth year, Readling said.
The new department will cover the entire city, not just the newer sections like the Tega Cay Utility Department does, Duffield said. The city's Public Works Department has been maintaining some of the storm drains and gutters throughout the city, but the Stormwater Utility Department will take responsibility for all gutters and drains, Duffield said.
Like the TCUD, the stormwater department will be run as an enterprise fund, meaning user fees will generate its budget, not tax dollars. However, to start the department, the city will probably have to loan the utility some money from its general fund, which is generated by tax dollars. Fees collected for the utility would then be used to repay the general fund.
Creating the utility requires a public hearing and two council votes. The hearing and first vote are scheduled for the council's Aug. 18 meeting, Duffield said. A second vote would come in September. No fee has been set yet, but the council intends to include one in the utility's budget ordinance, so that every year when the council sets the department's budget it will have to review the fee.
The city will have to have the utility established by ordinance prior to Oct. 1 for York County to include the fee with the property tax bills it mails out. The county already collects city taxes and sends the funds to Tega Cay.
Adding the fee to the bill will include a small one-time software upgrade fee to the county and an annual maintenance cost, but will not have any additional charges per bill. including the fee with the tax bill will ensure a higher rate of payment, because most people pay their taxes, Readling said.
It also cuts down on the administrative overhead the department would need if it mailed and processed its own bills.
Fort Mill also has to maintain NPDES compliance, but the town has not moved to set up a separate stormwater utility department, according to town officials. It did hire engineer Paul Mitchell last year to lead its compliance efforts.
So far, it has been relying on developer fees when new projects are approved to cover any compliance costs, and Mitchell inspects the projects to ensure they are following the rules. Developers are charged a $200 per acre fee, Mitchell said.
"The first thing the city is responsible for is pre-construction and post construction," Mitchell said.
"Once a development is complete, it's making sure everything is working the way it's supposed to, and they don't have any runoff problems."