RPB OKs Plan To Assess Properties For Drainage

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council approved a stormwater utility ordinance Thursday, April 5 that would assess homes and businesses for the amount of rainwater that runs off their property.

Public Works Director Paul Webster said the intent is to establish stormwater management as a utility function and an assessment program for all developed property within the village that uses the stormwater system.

The ordinance was in response to a February workshop, when the council directed staff to develop an ordinance after hearing a presentation by consultant Scott McClelland of CDM Smith.

The assessment would be used largely for the dredging of canals to prevent sedimentation from rendering them ineffective in controlling runoff.

Recapping the workshop presentation, McClelland explained that stormwater runoff comes from impervious areas that cannot absorb the rainfall, which requires the village to control erosion, flooding and pollution. The amount charged to the property would be relative to the amount of hard-surface area that covers it, McClelland said.

“Your village staff provides stormwater management through program management,” McClelland said, explaining that federal regulations require municipalities to comply with certain standards in order to discharge stormwater.

Royal Palm Beach’s program is fairly typical of Florida municipalities. Over time, capital improvement programs are put in place, generally by public works and engineering departments. The money traditionally comes from the general fund to remedy deficiencies in the canals.

“With CDM’s help, your staff has concluded that a more equitable way to fund the program would be with a stormwater utility fee, which like all other utilities is proportional to the services being provided for the fee payer,” he said, explaining that the service is related in turn to impervious area, thereby making the fee more equitable than if it came from the general fund. “In short, the more impervious area you have, the more runoff you have, and the more service the village has to provide.”

There are about 160 stormwater utilities in Florida, with eight in Palm Beach County, he said. “The average rate is $4.60 [per month] per billing unit, and the average rate in Palm Beach County is $5.44 per billing unit,” he said. “In most of these, the billing unit is defined as the median impervious area for single-family homes, which for the village is 2,723 square feet, based on all of your single-family homes.”

Under the formula, a single-family homeowner would pay one equivalent residential unit (ERU) per dwelling unit and nonresidential customers would pay based on the ratio of their actual impervious area to 2,723 square feet, he said.

Councilman Jeff Hmara said he favored the concept, since it was aimed more directly at the user rather than being taken out of general revenues. “It sounds like a user-fee-oriented approach to buy this service,” Hmara said.

Recalling discussion from the workshop, Vice Mayor Fred Pinto said the long-term impact of not implementing a plan would be a more expensive undertaking in the future.

McClelland said the canal system is a prime example of the purpose of a stormwater utility and addressing issues proactively. “You are blessed right now with the fact that you have a canal system and it can accept a lot of runoff, but over time that runoff carries sediment… It builds up, and you can wait until it catastrophically fails, which is probably not a wise thing to do.”

McClelland suggested that the village slowly work to be proactive with the maintenance in the canal as a budget item while doing other maintenance to reduce particulate in runoff.

Councilwoman Martha Webster asked whether a stormwater assessment would duplicate other fees. McClelland said it would not.

Village Manager Ray Liggins pointed out that in addition to the eight stormwater utilities in the county, there are also drainage districts, such as the Indian Trail Improvement District and the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District, that perform similar functions and charge assessments to property owners.

Councilman Richard Valuntas made a motion to approve the resolution, which carried unanimously. Final approval is set for Thursday, April 19.