Gainesville City Council voted down the implementation of a “rain tax” Tuesday night by a 3-2 vote after protests from residents and business owners in recent days.
“The poor will suffer the most, as they often do,” Murrayville resident Doug Aiken said, adding that he would be impacted as a county taxpayer since the county owns property in Gainesville subject to the proposed fee.
And Mike Scupin, a local coordinator for the Lanier Tea Party Patriots, said the council was acting like the Environmental Protection Agency and exceeding its authority with unnecessary burdens on taxpayers.
Council will likely hold public meetings now before moving forward with efforts to implement fees city officials said are needed to pay for repairs and upgrades to aging stormwater drainage infrastructure.
The stormwater program proposal calls for charging $1 for every 1,000 square feet of impervious surface on residential, commercial, nonprofit and government property.
Churches, hospitals and even government buildings will be subject to the new fee, which could rise to $1.25 in 2019 and $1.50 in 2020 under current proposals.
Only federal, state, county and city roads and right of ways are exempt.
There are more than 124 million square feet of impervious surfaces in Gainesville alone, and the fees could generate about $1.5 million in revenue in the first year.
However, that figure could fall to about $955,000 after credits are counted toward each property owner’s bill.
Water Resources Director Kelly Randall said it was important to go ahead and establish a fee now so that the entire program can launch next year.
He added that the fee could be lowered at any time down the road.
“We need to go ahead and kick the dog off the porch,” he urged. “It’s really all about water quality.”
But Council members George Wangemann, Bob Hamrick and Sam Couvillon pulled back for various reasons.
“It’s more than just a city problem,” Wangemann said, adding that he’d like to see county government and other municipalities get involved.
Wangemann said he was also concerned about the impact on businesses.
For example, Lakeshore Mall has one of the largest impervious surface footprints in all of Gainesville. Estimates place its financial burden under the proposed fee at about $20,000 annually.
Randall said credit and rebate programs would reduce the fee cost for many residents and businesses.
Hamrick said he didn’t think it was fair to vote for the fee when he is retiring at the end of the year.
He said he preferred to leave the vote for his replacement, Zack Thompson.
“This sort of sets the precedent,” he added.
Finally, Couvillon said calls from his constituents in recent days had led him to believe that more public outreach and education about the need to address stormwater infrastructure is required before approving fees.
“What is maddening to me is how government works,” he said. “People want to have a stake in this.”