Gazette Editorial Board
Cedar Rapids government is aiming for more fairness in the fees that pay for upkeep of the city’s 460-plus miles of storm sewers. The Infrastructure Committee’s proposed tiered fee system, if approved by the City Council, would be a step in the right direction. It also should not be the last.
Cedar Rapids currently relies on a flat fee of $4.78 a month for all property owners, regardless of size. It raises enough for basic maintenance but is running about $1 million a year short of what’s needed for replacement projects.
The committee’s plan creates nine different rates based on the size of a property. The residential rate wouldn’t change. At the other end, the 370 largest properties (greater than 6 acres) would pay $133.84 per month.
The tiered system would raise enough additional revenue to cover the shortfall. That’s good and necessary. Storm sewers are part of a city’s basic infrastructure and shouldn’t be neglected.
What the proposal doesn’t do is just as important in the long run: substantially reduce the amount of runoff into the stormsewer system.
The city’s Stormwater Commission preferred a plan that would create financial incentives for property owners to do more to control urban runoff, too much of which floods, erodes and funnels pollutants into our waterways via the storm sewers. That proposal called for a system that uses an equivalent residential unit (ERU) — figure how much stormwater leaves a typical residential lot, then charge fees based on how many ERUs of runoff comes from larger properties with more impervious surfaces. Iowa City, Des Moines, Davenport and Waterloo use ERUs.
Large property owners would pay considerably more under an ERU system. However, there also would be incentives: lower fees if they implement practices and structural controls that reduce their properties’ runoff.
However, the threat of significantly higher fees upfront led to pushback from commercial and industrial property owners.
In a city that knows all too well the disastrous effects of flooding, clearing undue obstacles to business recovery and growth is vital. So is reducing our flood exposure and runoff problems, which will only get worse if development practices aren’t modified.
It may take a phased-in approach to make the latter happen on a level that makes a difference. But happen it should.
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