Why Does Columbus Need a Stormwater Utility?
LISTENING SESSION #2: at the Fireman's Pavilion on Tuesday, January 25, 2022 at 6:30pm. Residents are invited to attend in-person (masks required) or participate via Zoom. Please stop by or call City Hall at 920-623-5900 to request the Zoom info.
The City of Columbus has a history of flooding and other stormwater concerns. While nothing we do can flood-proof the City, there are projects and improvements that could improve conditions and mitigate some effects during high water events. Additionally, the stormwater infrastructure found throughout the City needs routine service and maintenance to ensure proper operation when we need it most.
Unfortunately, making lasting stormwater improvements can be a costly proposition. Because they are funded with tax dollars, stormwater projects must compete with other projects and services like street and road maintenance or public safety commitments like police, fire, and emergency medical services. Further complicating the issue are State regulations that limit the amount of taxes we can collect to fund these projects and other programs that limit new expenditures by withholding State revenues in future years.
Recognizing these budgetary limitations while also understanding the public’s desire to see real, lasting improvements, the City of Columbus is considering the adoption of a stormwater utility fee.
By establishing a stormwater fee, the City can create a dependable, dedicated funding mechanism for the City to maintain or improve stormwater management resources throughout the City.
In 2013, the State of Wisconsin passed Act 20, which required municipalities to reduce the tax levy by the amount of fees collected by Stormwater Utilities. That law created a path to avoid the levy reduction, allowing local voters to approve a referendum authorizing the City to collect these fees and not reduce the levy by the amount of fees collected.
The City has drafted an ordinance to establish a stormwater utility. We need you, the residents of the City to pass the proposed referendum in in April of 2022 that will allow the collection of fees without reducing the levy. The referendum question is:
"Shall the City of Columbus Stormwater Utility be permitted to charge its customers for maintenance and operation of stormwater management facilities and infrastructure without reducing the levy limit for fees collected?”
WHO ELSE HAS A STORMWATER UTILITY?
Currently, more than 120 communities in Wisconsin have a stormwater utility in place to collect fees for stormwater management and maintenance. Among these utilities, annual fees for residential properties range from $10 to $175, with an average annual charge of just over $63. Other communities with stormwater utilities in the region include:
WHY NOT JUST USE TAXES?
Currently, the City of Columbus funds stormwater improvements with property tax revenue. Using this traditional method of funding stormwater expenses, homeowners are responsible for more than 2/3 of the cost, while they only contribute slightly more than 1/3 of the impervious area in the City. This creates a substantial disconnect between the stormwater being generated and the cost of managing the stormwater.
Aside from charging fees that fairly distribute the cost of stormwater management, there are several benefits to establishing a stormwater utility:
- Revenue generated by the utility can only be used for stormwater expenses, and accumulates over time.
- Revenues are consistent, promoting long-term planning and improvements.
- Property owners that take actions to reduce stormwater runoff can receive a credit to lower fees.