Centerville Council plans to create stormwater utility

Telegraph correspondentOctober 17, 2012 

CENTERVILLE -- City Council is moving forward with a plan that will create a new city-run utility to deal with stormwater.

Mayor John Harley said the plan will lead to a utility that will take pressure off the city’s general fund but will create a new monthly fee for residents to enable the city to handle mandated stormwater issues.

Council members voted unanimously Tuesday during their work session to engage Integrated Science & Engineering (ISE) of Peachtree City to help walk them through a three-phase process to create the utility and develop a more comprehensive stormwater management plan.

They will pay ISE $95,800 for services during what they were told could be about an 18-month process.

Council members agreed the utility was necessary to provide funding to meet increasing state and federal stormwater mandates. Harley said continuing to pay for stormwater management out of the general fund would lead to future property tax increases.

Council discussed among themselves that the new utility could cost residents monthly fees from $3 to $7 related to stormwater. Fees will vary depending on stormwater creation, with large producers such as the Houston County Galleria paying higher fees.

Harley and Mike Brumfield, Centerville’s utilities superintendent, said the city now spends about $25,000 a year for administering stormwater issues plus whatever costs are needed for required physical repairs, improvements and replacement of such things as culverts and stormwater runoff systems.

“These state mandates are growing and costs to keep up with them are increasing,” Harley said. “It’s all about protecting our water supply, our aquifer. We have mandates and we have to do it. We have to pay for it and we don’t want to raise taxes.”

City Attorney Rebecca Tydings said creation of such utilities and fees have been deemed legal in the state’s courts. She said about 50 Georgia communities had or are setting up stormwater utilities.

Harley said Warner Robins has already created such a utility with the help of ISE.

Richard Greuel of ISE told council the process consists first of creating a rate model and fee plan. He said then a cross-community advisory board will be educated on stormwater issues and offer advice regarding the plan. He said the plan will then be implemented.

Council agreed the cost for setting up the utility would be borrowed from the city’s water and sewer utility and be paid back once the new utility is under way.

They said all funds generated by the new utility will go exclusively to dealing with stormwater.

Each council member addressed controversy a new utility might cause and said they were committed to seeing the process through for the long-term ecological and financial good of the city.

Ordinance to be upcoming on video gambling

In other matters, council instructed Tydings to draft an new ordinance to tighten the city’s policies on coin operated amusement machines, generally referred to as video gambling machines.

Councilmen Ed Tucker and Jonathan Nichols asked Tydings if such machines could be outlawed. When told state law would not allow that, both asked her to make the new ordinance as stringent as possible.

Both expressed concerns over rumors illegal gambling use is being made of the machines.

Nichols said he was concerned money was being made “through the back door” and “in the back rooms” that the city was not regulating. He said he wanted to “grip this as tight as we can.”

“You don’t go to a bar and not drink,” Nichols said. “I just don’t believe a grown person sits at one of these machines all day for nothing.”

The city’s current ordinance already has more restrictions on machines than state restrictions, but council will consider adding additional requirements such as restrictions related to video surveillance and reporting funds generated from machines.

Tydings will prepare a new ordinance for council’s consideration in November. It will also possibly get the first of two readings in November before being passed.

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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