Stormwater service charges may now go up 5 percent instead of 3 percent, a decision the Albany City Council will make when it votes on a new resolution March 14.
Councilors held a public hearing Wednesday on a proposed 3 percent service charge hike but decided in the course of the meeting to vote on a higher rate later this month, saying the larger rate would at least keep pace with inflation.
In other business Wednesday, councilors voted unanimously, without comment, to repeal a resolution allowing nonelected individuals to serve as guest councilors when an elected councilor is absent.
That practice, which dates to 2009, prompted a debate last October when Budget Committee member Scott Pierson sat in as a nonvoting guest councilor for Mike Sykes, who was on a five-week vacation. Wednesday's vote ends the practice.
At its next meeting, if the council agrees to a 5 percent stormwater service charge, the effect on a single family residential customer would be about 30 cents per month on top of his or her current stormwater service charge bill, said Jeff Blaine, Public Works Engineering and Community Development director.
The city is seeking an increase because large portions of the stormwater system are failing, Blaine said. Only half of the system has been inspected so far, and of that half, eight miles' worth of pipe is failing or anticipated to fail in the next decade. Another mile or so needs significant maintenance and repair to fix intruding root systems.
Fixing those two issues is expected to cost at least $20 million, Blaine said. If the remaining half of the system is in similar shape, that estimate rises to $40 million.
That work doesn't count the average $400,000 required annually to fund stormwater improvements associated with planned street projects. Right now, the city uses street funds to cover those costs, which means less is available for actual street improvements.
The proposed hike doesn't take into account the fact that the city will be required at some point to get a stormwater discharge permit from the Department of Environmental Quality. The draft permit currently under discussion would cost an annual average of $1.6 million, with even the best-case scenario estimated at $900,000 per year, according to the report.
A 3 percent increase was estimated to bring in about $52,500 per year.
Only one person spoke during Wednesday's public hearing. Joanne Aldrich* reminded councilors to think of senior citizens who can't afford even a few cents extra when living on fixed incomes.
Councilor Bill Coburn encouraged the city to work on a public information campaign to highlight the problems the system faces and the necessity of finding a way to pay for them.
— *Joanne Aldrich's name was not available in time for the print edition of this story.