Hart: Fee for drainage fixes looms for Bibb County property owners

It’s just a matter of time before Bibb County property owners start paying a stormwater utility fee, Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said Tuesday.

The county, the city of Macon and the Macon Water Authority are planning to hire a consultant for $60,000 to $90,000 to look at ways of fixing the area’s flooding and drainage problems. Some money to address the needs would come from a separate sales-tax vote next year, Hart said.

“Even though we will put forward some money, it won’t be enough,” Hart said. “I think it’s inevitable that we’ll have a fee at some point.”

Local governments are increasingly eyeing what’s called a stormwater utility fee, which charges property owners for how much of their land lets rain run off. Critics sometimes call it a rain tax. Lawns aren’t included, but roofs, driveways and parking lots will cost the property owner money. As a comparison, Warner Robins’ stormwater utility charges $3.25 per month for each 3,000 square feet of impervious surface. Many homes are paying that amount per month, but businesses and even churches with lots of parking pay much more.

Tony Rojas, executive director of the Macon Water Authority, said a stormwater utility is far from a sure thing. Work on failing infrastructure could be paid for with money from sales taxes, property taxes or other fees. But the total bill will be high.

“I know the $5 million the city’s spending on their infrastructure is just a drop in the bucket,” he said.

Andrew Blascovich, spokesman for Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, said the governments should explore the creation of a stormwater utility. Costs will easily run into the tens of millions of dollars, he said.

“I think everyone realizes the need is there with our stormwater management,” he said. “Some places (the infrastructure) is over 150 years old, and in some ways that’s higher quality than what’s 100 years old.”

Rojas said Macon and Bibb County haven’t created an inventory showing the age, size and location of drainage pipes.

Tuesday, the Bibb County Commission debated whether and how it could help residents near The Vinings Drive near Forsyth Road, where rainwater has undercut trees so badly they’re falling over, sometimes into houses. Commissioners have been sympathetic but worry about larger stormwater problems across the county.

Also Tuesday, commissioners agreed on a $19,000 emergency repair for Heath Road, where an aging clay drainage pipe is causing the road to collapse in front of Weaver Middle School.

“It’s a dangerous situation at the school out there,” Chief Administrative Officer Steve Layson told commissioners. “We need to move and move quickly.”

Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said the county has countless stormwater problems.

“Every time it rains our phones literally ring off the hook with these drainage issues,” he said.

County commissioners plan to ask voters in July for a new sales tax, which they could split between new courthouses, recreation projects and drainage solutions. No one expects the drainage money to fix all the problems.

In other business, commissioners:

— Passed an ordinance to stop bad smells, piles of junk and other nuisances. The ordinance will allow the county to send problems to Magistrate and State courts.

— Said they are tweaking the county government health insurance plans. Harry Colbert, a sheriff’s office SWAT team member, said increases were so large, it would change the lives of low-paid deputies. The plans are expected to be finalized Friday.

— Decided to ask property owners along Hawaiian Village Drive if they would pay for street lights. Nearly 100 residents of the trailer parks on that road petitioned for the lights, but the county said owners had to agree to pay. Two men have been killed on that road, but officials said the lack of lighting didn’t contribute to the deaths.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.