Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Point-Counterpoint: Drainage Utility Fee

The agenda for Richardson's Monday night city council meeting contained a public hearing concerning the establishment of a drainage utility fee. (This blog item is being written before that public hearing takes place.)

After the jump, a case for and against this new utility fee.

Point: a local critic says Richardson's proposed new drainage utility fee is a money grab. It's a way for the city to free up money in the General Fund for other uses.
What is about to change is the payment for these [drainage utility] fees, when paid through the water bill, will no longer be tax deductable [sic] and property taxes will not be going down with the change. This will free up more money out of the general fund to pay for other things.

Counterpoint: the City of Richardson says the new drainage utility fee is needed in addition to the spending previously budgeted out of the General Fund. More money is needed because of "mandates of the State's Stormwater Quality Management regulations."
Upon the City Council's direction, about $1 million of current General Fund expenses related to this program (engineering, enforcement, inspection, etc.) will be redirected and assigned to a new Drainage Utility Fund. Additionally, about $1.5 million in annual stormwater/drainage capital improvements will be funded.

This is where I should dig a little into past and future budgets in an attempt to ferret out who is right. But, having been down this road many times before (see Chicken Little), I suspect I know the answer without doing the digging. As this is being written *before* Monday night's City Council meeting, I'm hopeful the city itself provides the facts to settle the matter and save me the time and effort. By the time you're reading this, I hope we'll have the answer.


Nathan Morgan said...

This is not really an unfunded mandate. It is the exposure of failed fiscal management.

What responsibility to protect the water shed has been neglected over the years that got us into the position of needing another tax to clean up the mess?

I think we need a super committee to examine and determine the justification for each penny of spending. These stealth tax increases without voter approval are sheltering City Management from the requirement to be fiscally responsible.

Let's take a look at discretionary spending at City Hall and see if we can't make some cuts in frivolity to favor responsible infrastructure management so the people do not have to endure another hoax for the purpose of extracting more money from the wallets of citizens.

Mark Steger said...

Nathan, what you say is in contradiction of this slide presented at the public hearing Monday night:

Texas Pollution Discharge Elimination System (TPDES)
* State of Texas (TCEQ) component of National EPA Mandate
* Phased Permitting by Population Size (>100,000)
* Initial Richardson Compliance Period: 2007-2008
- 5 Year Phased Program (Aug. 13, 2007)
- Permitted Until 2012-2013
* Future Re-permitting/Renewal Period in 2012-2013
- Renewal by Aug.13, 2012
- Draft Requirements Now being Issued
- Stronger/Added Requirements
- Several Municipal "Housekeeping" Requirements Proposed

Mark Steger said...

The blogger with the "Point" argument in the original post who called the new drainage utility fee a cash grab, put up another blog post today starting with, "Assuming There Is Justification for the Need for Mo’ Money for storm water drainage ..."

The city should probably take that as support, or as much support as they are likely to get from that quarter. And I'll take it as an implicit acknowledgement that the city's "Counterpoint" argument probably carries the day, saving me from having to do the hard work of actually checking the numbers myself.

Nathan Morgan said...

My point is, if these toxic conditions have indeed developed in this tiny town of Richardson, what were those in charge of managing health and safety issues doing for the past 30 years?

How did the best, highest paid municipal employees in the State overlook such an in-your-face, critical fiduciary responsibility to manage environmental safety?

The creeks and springs have been here much longer than the settlements. What has the financial resources collected to manage such municipal assets been spent on over the years?

Look around. This is not the first instance of fiscal mismanagement that resulted in higher fees. Neither is it the first episode of frivolous city spending that brought about an increase in taxes.

Yet, the nose-ring-lead Council rewards this level of performance with increased compensation.

Nathan Morgan said...

Oh yea, that's right. The law did not previously compel those who manage municipal assets to concern themselves with environmental conservatory. I get it.

Mark Steger said...

Nathan, the particular issue being addressed by the drainage utility fee is the general urban run-off into drainage systems. Historically, this was less of a problem than point sources of polution, as there simply wasn't much run-off. Rain soaked into the ground. Increasingly, as more and more of the land is paved, general run-off has become a bigger problem and needs to be addressed better than it needed to be addressed in the past.

Nathan Morgan said...

Mark, You mean to say we are suffering the effects of poor urban planning now? That's my point exactly. What have we been paying these crack public employees to do?

Mark Steger said...

Nathan, if you are agreeing with what I said, I'm satisfied.

Nathan Morgan said...

Mark, I think you may be on to something here. It looks to me like it took a law to compel our municipal management team toward a respectable level of stewardship in tending to the preservation of Richardson's watershed.

Those in the neighborhoods near the garbage transfer station, after years of notifying city officials, will finally get some relief.

And, thank God for former City Councilman Rhea Allison. The residents of the often berated Mark Twain neighborhood can thank Rhea Allison that they don't have to put up with the weekly toxic waste dump in the parking lot of the City's Service Center. I had to threaten to call the EPA before I could get David Morgan to move off his, "It's been there a long time. It's not going anywhere." position.

Mark Steger said...

Nathan, the trash transfer station and the city service center are point sources of pollution. They are separate problems from the general urban runoff issue that's the subject of the original blog item.

P.S. I'm glad that you found the EPA to be a useful government agency. Too many people don't.

Nathan Morgan said...

The threat of contacting the EPA was the useful part. At that point the neighborhood had nowhere else to turn.

The relevant point is that City leaders were not concerned about the toxic run off into the storm sewer system from the weekly heap of industrial waste dumped in the parking lot.

I suspect there have been similar management oversights around town over the years that brought us to this new fee to clean it up.