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Council begins review of proposed waste water, sewer fee

While a proposed storm water fee that’s being proposed by a city task force is designed to create equality, there was some concern from members of the City Council that the system won’t be fair.
The City Council Monday night reviewed a Sustainable Storm Water Funding Task Force’s recommendations on how the city can fund infrastructure and environmental improvements to its wastewater systems. During the discussion, some concern was raised that the proposed fee structure isn’t as fair as the task force thought.6-5-sewer-ed
Councilor Ed Suslovic said the task force took a look at the three possible funding options. He said the city could leave the system as it stands; put it into the general fund; or create a separate fee.
Suslovic said the first option wasn’t fair because not everyone pays for the water that contributes to the combined-sewer overflow issues, where sewage enters public waterways due to antiquated storm water systems in the city. The second option gave a pass to tax-exempt organizations.
“What was left was the idea of creating a storm water fee,” he said.
Suslovic said there are cases where properties are creating a high volume of storm water runoff but avoid paying for anything because they don’t consume any water.
Based on the task force’s recommendation, the committee would split the new fee between water and sewer.
Councilor Kevin Donoghue asked how the committee arrived at the 50-50 split.
Suslovic said the group looked at the numbers, and half the problem was storm water and half was sewage, so a 50-50 split was the best route.
Donoghue said he’d favor putting more of the fee on the storm water side than the sewer side.
Suslovic said he wouldn’t support going any further than a 60-40 split because anything beyond that would create equity issues.
Councilor Cheryl Leeman said she doesn’t see that the new fee will be beneficial to homeowners because she thinks it will be a burden to them. She said she sees the fee, and the credits that go along with it, having more benefits to commercial users.
Along with the new fee system, the committee is proposing a 50-percent credit for commercial users if they can document making improvements that bring them in line with federal environmental standards. For homeowners, there would be a one-time rebate available for making “green” improvements to their property.
Suslovic said businesses would have to reapply for the credit each year and provide the necessary documents and reports. He said to have that same level of inspections and process for homeowners didn’t seem like the most practical use of the administrative costs.
Leeman said, as a homeowner, if it meant getting a 50-percent reduction, she’d send in a report each year. She asked if there was any way to cut the cost of that fee down for the homeowner.
“This is going to have a significant impact,” she said, and the fee structure is going to require some thought so it doesn’t put too much of a burden on residents.
Leeman said she’s not sold on the 50-50 split.
The Monday night meeting was the council’s first workshop on the task force’s recommendations, and additional sessions will be scheduled to talk about their ideas.
For details on the Sustainable Storm Water Funding Task Force, visit www.portlandmaine.gov/sustainablestorm waterfunding.htm.

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