Possible ‘rain tax’ in county forecast
by Nikki Wiley
July 19, 2013 12:43 AM | 5189 views | 6 6 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Cobb County residents have endured a summer of near-record rainfall. Now comes word that the county government is eyeing a new “rain tax” to fund infrastructure improvements.

The proposal is included in a draft of the county’s strategic plan, which is scheduled to be voted on this fall by the Board of Commissioners.

The plan suggests exploring a stormwater utility fee that would be billed to all property owners to fund stormwater projects.

County spokesman Robert Quigley was vague when asked who inserted the proposal into the strategic plan draft.

“Not sure who brought it up late last year when we had a series of round-table discussions on the strategic plan,” Quigley said.

Passing the plan does not necessarily mean the fee would be implemented because the plan is used as a guide and is not legally binding.

The list of stormwater projects continues to grow each year, said county chairman Tim Lee.

“We’re not able to keep up with stormwater in the county,” he said.

Exploring the fee, Lee said, will become more of priority over the next 18 months when the county begins its budget process for the fiscal year 2014-15, which begins Oct. 1, 2014.

Larry Savage of east Cobb, who opposed Lee in the last county election, says it’s just another opportunity for revenue. He, along with opponents of the fee across the state, call it a “rain tax” and isn’t convinced it’s needed because stormwater services already have a funding source that comes from county water fees.

“I always get a little nervous when the government wants to open up a new revenue stream … It would just be another form of taxation,” Savage said.

Part of a trend

The county commission wouldn’t be the first local Georgia government to levy this kind of a utility fee.

It wouldn’t even be the first in Cobb.

Powder Springs passed a stormwater utility fee in March 2012, citing trouble keeping up with state mandated inspections, said Mayor Pat Vaughn.

The city charges $3 each month to the average homeowner, and bills the fee annually along with property taxes.

It’s made a difference, Vaughn said, calling it a “tremendous benefit.”

“It’s allowed us to hire an employee, two of them actually, to inspect the properties and start making the repairs that need to be made,” she said.

About 40 miles south of Marietta, Fayette County has been collecting the fee for the last seven months.

Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown said the county’s aging infrastructure was causing problems underground that no one knew existed.

“We had roads collapsing because the culverts under them were old and decayed, and they started to let go,” Brown said.

The county’s budget didn’t account for major replacements of stormwater infrastructure, and the county turned to the stormwater utility fee.

But it wasn’t easy.

“One problem we faced at the onset is the citizens were just not aware of what the problems are,” Brown said.

Brown admits the county did a poor job of telling residents why it needed the extra cash and experienced a backlash from property owners who didn’t want to pay another bill.

“If Cobb is going to do this, they need to make sure they have an adequate educational campaign,” Brown said.

In Fayette County, the fee is levied on all property owners, including nonprofits and government agencies. Brown says the typical home sitting on an acre of land with a standard driveway pays between $12 and $20 a year.

Still, it’s not enough to fund everything the county wants to do. Fayette voters will weigh in on a special purpose local option sales tax that would fund more stormwater projects later this year.

“Now, we’re in the process of not only having the stormwater utility but also having a special purpose local option sales tax that would help us maintain that system,” Brown said.

How it works

Now, stormwater projects are funded with water fees. Establishing a separate utility fee would provide another revenue source.

“It’s such an isolated cause and effect,” Lee said of the need to separate funding for water and stormwater projects.

Steve McCullers, director of the Cobb County Water System, says he wants to get ahead of the problem before too much costly damage is done.

“We had so much growth in the late ’70s and in the ’80s, and a lot of those pipes are getting old and are getting close to the end of their useful life,” McCullers said. “So we’d like to be able to put some money into the system to catch the ones that are failing and to catch some others before they are failing.”

Many local governments that levy this fee based it on the amount of impervious surface — surface rain cannot seep through — they own. Impervious surfaces are considered to be anything from a paved driveway, wooden deck or a roof.

Lee says he isn’t sure how the fee would be levied or how it would be billed because it hasn’t been explored in detail yet. Some local governments tack the fee onto a water bill, bill it separately or add it to a property tax bill.

Past rejections

This isn’t the first time Cobb has considered a fee to fund stormwater maintenance and improvements.

When Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens was the chairman of the county commission, he brought it up twice, once in 2003 and again in 2006.

The fee considered in 2003 would have been between $36 and $60 for residents each year and $108 and $180 for business owners.

At the time, county officials said the fee was needed to comply with stricter regional and federal environmental regulations.

Officials considered the fee again in 2006. That time it was projected to be about $3.24 per month or a 10 percent increase on the resident’s annual water bill.

Both proposals failed.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Time to Catch up
July 22, 2013
The Clean Water Act imposes serious and costly obligations to local goverments to improve water quality of our streams and rivers. People who know water know that controlling the quantity and quality of stormwater run-off is key to making further improvements to our waters. It will improve their fishability and swimability. Quite frankly it's a small price to pay and long overdue in Cobb and many other jurisdictions in Georgia. So if you like clean water more than you like being a Tea Party curmudgeon, then vote for it.
July 19, 2013
The more tax the better we are is Tim Lees motto.

So let's see - you take a % from the Water Authority and move it the the General Fund for you to spend it spend it spend it. This depletes the Water Authority so then our water bill increases to 6% and now that this? Tim Lee still does not have enough money? REALLY. The Chairman of this county is not a good steward of our MONEY. IT IS OUR MONEY and not his to spend frivolously. How many people are sick of this tax and spend mode. SPEAK UP NOW! If you sit back and say nothing then Lee thinks that you agree with him. I'm sick of this HOW ABOUT YOU?
Stop Building
July 19, 2013
How about we stop building unnecessarily, and stop covering grass with pavement? Part of the issue with stormwater and flooding is that the water has nowhere to go. How about we rehab foreclosed houses and return other abandoned buildings to grass and trees?
Hank Moody
July 19, 2013
Chairman Lee should just give these tea party folks what they want. Sole control over their property and everything that goes with it. Rather than pay for any damage done to any pipes or by storm water, it will becomes the responsibility of the home owner to fix it or live with it. That way they can lay down in the bed they have made for themselves.

If the road is impassable or traffic is bad. Too bad, sort it out yourselves. Grab some better tires.

-Hank Moody
July 19, 2013
If, it, moves tax it.

If it falls tax it.

There is no free air or free ride, tax it.
July 23, 2013
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