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Gainesville pushing ahead with rain tax
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Gainesville officials are pushing forward with a plan to create a stormwater utility and implement a “rain tax” to pay for upgrades and replacements to aging drainage infrastructure.

Launching the full-scale program will include renaming the public utilities department the Gainesville Department of Water Resources.

It is “high time” that the city establishes a specific utility, similar to water use, to fund stormwater projects, Councilman George Wangemann said Thursday morning during a work session discussion of the proposal.

But it remains to be determined just how a fee will be calculated and applied on commercial and residential properties in the city to pay for ongoing operations, maintenance and expansion of stormwater infrastructure.

The city has about 170 miles of pipe, the vast majority of which is corrugated metal and reinforced concrete. There are 222 detention ponds, about 4,500 catch basins, about 5,000 head/end walls and about 1,700 junction boxes.

In recent years, floods and sinkholes have closed streets and cost millions of dollars in damage countywide, and city officials have said action must be taken to address infrastructure deficiencies before something catastrophic occurs.

There are several known problem areas in the city where collapsing culverts and rusted pipes, now in the ground for decades, pose a threat as stormwater is diverted from its path to rivers, streams and, ultimately, Lake Lanier, according to officials.

The city is planning to create an enterprise fund with a dedicated revenue stream to pay for stormwater projects.

There are about 50 separate utilities for stormwater statewide, including in Duluth, Athens, Auburn, Lawrenceville and Sugar Hill.

Those cities charge utility fees ranging from $1.25 to $6.25 per month for residential properties, and higher for commercial properties, to keep stormwater systems up-to-date.

Officials have said a fee could be calculated based on the amount of impervious surface on a property, plus the cost of implementing the program.

The city is facing increasing regulatory pressure to improve water quality, officials said, but Wangemann expressed concern about the impact the price tag would have on Gainesville property owners.

“Stormwater knows no political boundaries,” he said, urging cooperation at every level of local government connected to Lake Lanier.

Council will likely approve a resolution at its Tuesday meeting to formally initiate the stormwater utility and will authorize a temporary line of credit to allow an interdepartmental loan from the public utilities division to jumpstart the program.

“It’s a need,” said Mayor Danny Dunagan. “But we got a long way to go, too.”