A proposed “rain tax” in Gainesville to fund stormwater infrastructure upgrades seemed destined for approval earlier this month.
But then residents and business owners stepped up to the microphone and city officials voted it down.
Reports of the stormwater utility’s death, however, are premature.
“We’re going to back up and look at it from some different perspectives,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said. “We’ll have public meetings and do a little better job of educating the people.”
Officials have warned that aging pipes, costly road washouts, and new state and federal water quality regulations have prompted the need for a self-sustaining fee program.
“Obviously, the need has been determined to improve and repair our city’s stormwater system,” Zack Thompson, who will be sworn in as the city’s Ward 2 representative on the council in January, said. “This need can no longer be ignored or the costs and severity will continue to rise, as it has over the past few decades.”
Finding a fair and equitable way to charge the fee could help alleviate citizen concerns, he added.
The stormwater fee 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. In addition, city officials have hinted that the fee could be lowered or increased year in and year out depending on needs.
Councilman Sam Couvillon voted against setting the fee, but acknowledged that the need exists while the process of addressing it has been messy.
“There’s no way I would support (the fee) without there being public meetings,” he added. “I think everyone on the council knows there has to be a way to address the issue.”
Residents and business owners have expressed skepticism about the funding proposal and whether other options are available — such as tapping general fund or capital expense dollars, or finding budget cuts.
“The city leadership has been determined to give this tax an inch into the city taxpayers’ pocketbooks, and where there is an inch there will be a mile,” Frank Norton Jr., CEO and chairman of The Norton Agency real estate firm in Gainesville, told The Times ahead of the first vote.
Officials, however, are ready to move forward once more and said they expect to hold another vote on the proposed fee program by April.
“It’s going to help a lot of people,” Dunagan said. “I think we can still implement it in 2017.”