Batavia considers tax increase for stormwater work

  • Removing invasive cattails, as was done in 2010, improves stormwater drainage at Braeburn Marsh in Batavia. The city may increase property taxes, to spend more on drainage work.

      Removing invasive cattails, as was done in 2010, improves stormwater drainage at Braeburn Marsh in Batavia. The city may increase property taxes, to spend more on drainage work. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/26/2017 5:01 PM

Batavia aldermen are considering increasing property taxes and using the extra money to speed up work on stormwater drainage projects.

They haven't determined how much more, nor ruled out the idea of instead charging a monthly fee to all utility customers.

 

"It is something we need to address, and something we need to address hard and serious," Alderman Michael O'Brien said.

"The projects are not going to away," said Gary Holm, public works director.

The council has talked for five years about how much money the city should be spending to fix and expand its drainage system, and how to pay for it.

It has hired consultants to identify all the projects that need to be addressed. A Maryland firm recommended in 2015 the city establish a stormwater utility and consider charging fees to fund it. It also said the city should spend another $1 million a year on drainage work, about four times what it was spending.

This week Holm presented a resolution for the council to increase property taxes. Aldermen voted 13-1 to advance it to the June 5 council meeting.

The advantages of paying for the work through property taxes are simplicity and deductibility.

The city council can just increase the levy with a simple vote. With a stormwater fee, the city would have to calculate how much each lot is covered by impervious surfaces to determine what to charge the owner.

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Property taxes are deducible on income tax returns and stormwater fees are not.

Mark Uher was the only aldermen to disagree. Charging a fee would encourage property owners to take measures to alleviate runoff, such as installing rain gardens, rain barrels and pervious parking lots.

But Alderman Dave Brown said the council chamber would be filled with protesters if it went to a fee because the fee would be charged also to owners of non-taxed properties, including schools and churches. Alderman Marty Callahan said residents would still end up paying through their school taxes. The fee could also discourage industrial businesses from coming to town, he said.

"I'd rather be able to write it off on my taxes," Alderman Alan Wolff said, "not that either one is easy to pay for."

The work

"Rahat (Bari) and I in the course of about 30 seconds can come up with $10 million worth of projects," Holm said. Bari is the city's engineer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

O'Brien's ward, on the east side, has especially suffered drainage problems the last few years, and a fix has been estimated at $2.1 million. The city also wants to separate combined sewers in a neighborhood on the southwest side. That project alone will cost about $3.9 million, according to a consultant.

A $500,000 property tax increase had been discussed for the 2016 budget, but not specifically designated for drainage work. Such an increase now would cost a taxpayer with a $200,000 home about $30 more per year.

"How do we play catch-up?" Alderman Susan Stark asked. "At a rate of $500,000 a year will we ever get ahead?"

No, Holm said, citing a nationwide concern about inadequate spending on repairing and replacing sewers, roads, bridges and other infrastructure built during the 20th century.

"Our grandchildren will still be having to fix some issues that we have today," Holm said.

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