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City won't seek stormwater fee

On a split vote, aldermen kill idea of asking voter approval for $2.75 monthly fee to residents

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

Going against a recommendation by City Administrator Keith Moody, the Platte City Board of Aldermen has decided not to ask voters to approve a stormwater utility fee.

At a special meeting Monday afternoon, aldermen turned down Moody's recommendation on a split vote of 3-3.

Mayor Dave Brooks declined the chance to break the tie.

"I'll abstain. I'll let the council decide. I feel like this should be a council decision," Brooks said during the meeting.

Later he added another reason he abstained is that he owns two commercial properties in town that would be affected by the fee.
Moody's recommendation was to ask voters to approve a ballot question that would have sought approval to tax every single family and two-family dwelling in the city a maximum stormwater utility fee of $2.75 per month.

Businesses, industries, multi-family and other users would pay a monthly maximum fee of 55¢ per 500 square feet of runoff surface.

Runoff surface would include the surface of buildings, driveways, parking lots and other structures that cause water from rain and snow to run into the city's storm drainage system.

The stormwater fee could only have been used for stormwater management, including street sweeping, catch basin cleaning/maintenance, storm sewer and channel maintenance, flood protection management and stormwater master planning.

Though the tie vote killed the issue for now, aldermen kept open the possibility of looking at the proposal again at a later time.

"We need to do more review into this thing to see what kind of impact it will have on taxpayers," Alderman Bill Knighton said.

Knighton said the city could later put the issue on the spring ballot "if we so choose" after further studying the matter.
Knighton, Jim Palmer and Ron Porter voted against the motion to place the issue on the November ballot. Those voting in favor were Aldermen Lee Roy Van Lew, Gary Brown and Shelle Browning.

A big part of the proposed spending for the early part of the tax would have been to purchase a street sweeper. The city hires Kansas City to do its street sweeping at a rate of $70 per hour.

Browning and Brown both spoke in favor of putting the issue before voters right away.
"If we don't let the people decide, it's going to impact the budget. We're going to need to sweep the streets whether we do it ourselves or hire it done," Browning said.
Porter indicated he had doubts that the fee question would get approval from voters.

"When they see it's going to cost them $2.75 per month, a lot of them are going to say they don't care whether the streets are clean or not," he remarked.

Speaking after the meeting, Porter said he'd like the issue to get "more study rather than coming up here at 1:00 in the afternoon (the time of Monday's special meeting) and saying we need to get it on the ballot."

Putting the issue on the November ballot would have cost the city $1,250, officials said.

The city views more regular cleaning of the streets as an aid in keeping storm drains clear and stormwater flowing more smoothly. Several areas of the city have drainage problems and some residents have complained to city hall.

Moody pointed out stormwater drainage was a major complaint in the most recent survey on how residents view services provided by the city.

"Stormwater runoff was second to last in overall satisfaction on the survey," the city administrator said.

After complaints during an extremely wet season last year, then-Mayor Frank Offutt named a stormwater commission to study the city's problem areas and make recommendations.

Moody said he felt the fee is necessary.

"This is not a service we can pay for using excess revenue from the general fund. We're not in that financial position," he remarked.

But Moody admitted the proposed fee would not generate enough revenue to make major stormwater improvements. He said the fee would be used for things such as stormwater boxes, end sections, upgrading of sizes of stormwater pipe, etc., not for major things like major stormwater channel additions/improvements.

"This would be for small projects," he said.

Moody estimated the fee would have brought in annual revenue of around $135,000.

He proposed the city buying a street sweeper at a cost of $150,000, with its purchase being amortized over seven years.

Moody said he estimates it would cost the city $15,000 a year to own the machine.

During the meeting, Brooks indicated he believes the city may still be money ahead by hiring Kansas City to sweep Platte City streets three or four times a year at a cost of about $3,500 each time.

After the meeting, Brooks said that by hiring Kansas City "two or three or four times a year we don't have to write a $150,000 check."

The mayor added he feels the city's top priority right now needs to be to get its budget balanced. The city is proposing a tax levy increase of 4 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which would take the tax levy up to $1.04.

In a memo to aldermen this week, Moody said the 2002 fiscal year general fund budget will not be balanced.

"The general levy combined with other general fund operating revenues is not adequate to cover the anticipated operating expenditures of the general fund," he wrote.

In proposing the 4% increase in the total tax levy for 2003, Moody said the debt service portion of that levy would be 50 cents, with the general fund levy at 54 cents.

Moody said the proposed tax levy would add a $7.60 increase in property taxes paid on a home with a value of $100,000.

Brooks said he feels it would have been bad timing to propose a stormwater tax at the same time an increase in the property tax levy is being proposed.

"We've got to get our budget balanced. That's No. 1," he said Monday.

At Tuesday night's regular meeting, the board voted to set the levy at $1.02, two cents lower than Moody had suggested in his memo.