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New storm-water utility could mean new fee for Macon-Bibb residents

Clay Murphey, program director for special sales tax funded projects in Macon-Bibb County, points out how the stormwater culvert running underneath Second Street and Hazel Street in Macon is in danger of falling in in this February 2016 file photo.
Clay Murphey, program director for special sales tax funded projects in Macon-Bibb County, points out how the stormwater culvert running underneath Second Street and Hazel Street in Macon is in danger of falling in in this February 2016 file photo. breaking@macon.com

Macon-Bibb County could have a new storm-water utility by 2019 as officials look for ways to improve that vast public infrastructure.

The county and the Macon Water Authority are expected to begin negotiations this year to create such a utility. The County Commission could vote Tuesday on a resolution to begin working toward an agreement to move storm-water management under the water authority’s control.

For now, the Macon-Bibb Public Works Department oversees storm-water issues. The department is able to make minor repairs, but anything major is contracted out, Public Works Director Marvin Land said.

In recent years, the water authority has taken a deeper look into the county’s storm-water systems, which were described as “aging, severely degraded and at risk of failure” in a 2016 study.

Dozens of storm-water utilities across Georgia, including ones in Covington, Clayton and Athens-Clarke counties, have formed in the last couple of decades.

“What we want to do is a full assessment of the county’s needs so we can get some sense of how we can set priorities and then set an appropriate budget,” water authority Chairman Sam Hart said.

If the utility is created, a new fee could be charged to residential and commercial property owners, said David King, with consulting firm Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon.

King met recently with the Macon-Bibb County Commission to discuss a series of storm-water workshops.

The extensive process of forming a storm-water utility would likely take well over a year to get ready. January 2019 is likely the earliest that the utility would start, water authority Executive Director Tony Rojas said.

Early forecasts are that it would cost in the neighborhood of $12 million a year to operate the utility. It would allow for more resources to update the systems that are in the most disrepair while also monitoring the newer storm-water systems, Rojas said.

“It’ll still take more time to try to identify what the rate structure would look like,” he said. “We also have to negotiate a contract with Macon-Bibb and go through the details of the extent and level of services. Those types of specifics would have to be hammered out. Then basically we would put the whole program together with personnel, equipment.”

The water authority will continue assessing the issue by mapping each of the systems and updating their conditions. About a third of Macon-Bibb’s storm-water systems have not been inventoried, officials said.

There is $25 million dedicated to storm-water issues in the 2018 special purpose local option sales tax. But that money would only put a slight dent in the tens of millions of dollars in storm-water needs across the county.

A faulty storm-water system can lead to flooding, but even smaller issues can lead to sinkholes or puddles on roadsides that can cause vehicles to hydroplane.

“There’s an unknown about how bad it is,” Rojas said. “We know just as quick as we get sales tax dollars for it, we spend it. We have an $8.8 million project already engineered and ready for construction, but the funds weren’t there.”

Initially the primary focus would be on capital improvements. Two types of systems — brick and corrugated — are at the end of their life cycles.

Rojas said it would take about five years for some marked improvements to be made with storm-water issues. It would likely be closer to 10 to 20 years before significant strides are made.

“It’ll take a lot of time for us to make headway from where we are now,” he said. “You’re tying to make the best of a bad situation. But we have to start reinvesting those assets. They’re critical. They run under our streets and are there for a purpose. I think in time we’ll get it in shape.”

A new storm-water utility would allow Public Works employees to focus more on the other services they provide.

“The water authority has the expertise, ... so it makes sense for them to manage the whole system,” Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said.

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph

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