Offering perspective on proposed stormwater utility

Why are we worried about stormwater? As you know, rain comes down all the time, runs down the street, flows into the sewer and fills the river – not a big deal. However, it’s a problem when it collects to excess in our streets and causes neighborhood flooding, when it infiltrates our sewer system and is run through the wastewater treatment plant, and when it picks up pollutants in places like parking lots.

In Enumclaw, our stormwater ends up in the White and Green rivers. We all have an interest in protecting these waters from pollutants like parking lot runoff with antifreeze, oil and transmission fluid in it. This is why we have governmental regulation of stormwater. This is not new. Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972.

In August of 2015, Enumclaw received a letter from the Department of Ecology ordering us to develop a plan and manage our stormwater. If we do not comply with the order, we could be sanctioned and are subject to other administrative penalties such as fines, revocation of our wastewater and stormwater permits, and/or a moratorium on building permits. Any of these would be detrimental to our community. The city has been working to develop and implement the plan to comply with the order since then.

We could continue to fund the program out of the street fund as we are currently; however, that has already shortchanged efforts to improve streets. We are going to need every street dollar we can to address other regulations and improve roads. Some have suggested that we should pay for it out of the general fund, but you’d have fewer resources for parks, recreation, the senior center, other city programs and police. We have heard from residents that we aren’t doing enough in some of those areas.

We could raise property taxes, but that option is limited. That seems like it would be the logical place to look for additional revenue. However, I believe this would have homeowners and small businesses bear a higher proportion of the cost than larger nonresidential properties, which raises fairness issues. Not only would homeowners be paying a larger share of the cost of solving the problem, they would see a reduction of city services as well.

We could create a stormwater utility to fund the program that was put forward in the budget. I understand concerns of many businesses in town that have large buildings and parking lots. However, if we went with the stormwater utility, the service fees would be based on what a property is contributing to the problem, which would be fair. Homeowners would pay a flat fee across the city and nonresidential properties would be charged based on how much runoff the property creates. Businesses would not be at a competitive disadvantage because area cities have their own stormwater utilities. For example, Sumner has had one in place since 1986.

My perspective is that when we ask for funds, it should be related to what contributes to the problem, which is why I believe the stormwater utility may be the better option. Any decision we make will be difficult and we should include all of our citizens in an open and forthright conversation moving forward.

During my service on the council, when confronted with a controversial issue or tough decision, I always like to look to the long-term effect. Ten or 20 years from now, will we say, “I’m glad we did that?” This could be one of those decisions.