The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District has recommended that all water authorities in metro-Atlanta add a monthly storm water runoff fee to their bills. The planning district, along with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, is in charge of licensing water and sewer plants.
The city is reviewed every three to five years by the Department of Natural Resources, said Villa Rica City Manager Larry Wood.
“They come and audit our wastewater plants and our water distribution system,” said Wood. “To get our plants licensed we have to submit to their audit and they recommend we do this and that. This is part of being able to have water and wastewater plants.”
While the exact amount hasn’t been determined, Wood estimates any increase would be a flat fee of somewhere between $2 and $4 per month for all households in the city, with businesses charged per square foot of impervious surface. He estimates the fee will collect $300,000 annually. An engineering study will determine how high the fee should be.
The council will discuss the issue at its March meeting and may pass the new fee at the April meeting. If the fee is passed, it will go into effect around October.
Douglas County current charges a fee of $4 to each of its residential water customers. The fee is charged to the owner of a property rather than the tenant, and is a flat fee assessed evenly regardless of house or lot size. Businesses are charged based roughly on the square footage of their property.
Villa Rica residents who live in Douglas County don’t pay the county’s fee.
One major opponent of the new fee is Villa Rica Mayor J. Collins. Collins calls it a “tax” and feels it isn’t needed.
“My only hesitation is requiring another tax or creating another utility,” Collins said. “I think storm water could be incorporated into the budget for streets and street maintenance. I think to just arbitrarily charge anyone another dollar or two or five, I don’t agree with it. We pay enough taxes as it is.”
Collins said storm water runoff costs should be covered under other taxes, like sales tax and property tax. He said the only reason Villa Rica has been advised to add the fee is because a portion of the city lies in Douglas County, and thus metro-Atlanta.
“It’s a shame the whole city falls under those guidelines and not just the Douglas County side,” Collins said. “We need to be committed to doing what we are required to do. I don’t know that we need to be above and beyond that.”
The fee is not a tax, but Wood acknowledged that it does function like one.
“Technically it’s not a tax, but yes, it requires the city to pay more money to do something we are being told we have to do,” Wood said. “Federal and state mandates are coming down to us for protecting the streams that take waters from our streets and parking lots and driveways.”
One key difference between a fee and tax is that tax-exempt businesses would still be required to pay the fee.
Reaction from locals hasn’t been positive. Wood said he’s getting a lot of resistance to the idea.
“As I expected, nobody wants another fee,” Wood said.
Another use for the fee is the estimated $150,000 cost for new flood maps of the city following the 2009 floods. The floods of four years ago were so high that they forced a remapping of flood plains for insurance and construction purposes.
“Part of our ordinance is to say we will not let people build within a flood plain,” said Wood. “So what’s a flood plain? We now have to redefine where those plains are.”
The council will discuss the fee at its next meeting, March 5 at 6 p.m. inside the Holt-Bishop Municipal Building.