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Arlington considers funding options for clean water


October 19, 2010

Society has known for many years that storm water runoff is one of several major contributors to destroying water quality and fish habitat.

Now the residents and businesses in Arlington have to pony up and help pay to prevent it.

"Jim, is this is what you'd call an unfunded mandate?" City Councilman Scott Solla asked Public Works Director James Kelly Monday night when Kelly asked council to approve a public hearing on an increase of the surface water utility rate.

The city's Stormwater Management Plan was completed by Barrett Consulting Group in 1995 and the 10-year update to the comprehensive plan brought attention to the need for some projects to meet the city's NPDES permit. That's the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.

After two workshop sessions on the need for a rate increase, council has now scheduled a public hearing for Nov. 1 to hear what the public thinks about the two different options for increasing rates. One is slow and steady over the next five years, and the other just gets 'er done.

"We actually need $17 million," Kelly said, "But we understand that would be cumbersome to residents, and we don't have the manpower to execute all those projects."

So Kelly offered two options that would raise about $1.7 million by 2014: a gradual increase (scenario 2) from the current rate of $3.45 (the lowest in the county), stepping up to $4.67 in 2011, $5.72 in 2012, $6.77 in 2013, or a simple, one-time jump to $6.30 in 2011 (scenario 1).

The funding would be used for continuing and improving stormwater management and the capital improvement program recommended in the comp plan update.

The stormwater utility was created in 2005 and the current rate of $3.45 was established in 2006 to fund the utility. The rate of $3.45 is per equivalent surface area (ESA) based on a single family residential property.

The city's NPDES permit was issued in 2007 and a stormwater technician was hired in 2008 to coordinate the maintenance and regulatory requirements of the permit.

Stormwater operations include cleaning storm systems by city staff, inspection of public and private stormwater treatment systems, capital repair and improvement planning, utility billing and outreach to the community.

Increased requirements from the state to manage stormwater and protect water quality of the river and Puget Sound have placed a financial and personnel strain on the utility, Kelly said.

Councilman Steve Baker expressed a preference for scenario 2, which raises more money in the end, but is gradual. Councilwoman Linda Byrnes suggested keeping an open mind until hearing from residents.

"Maybe they'd prefer one simple jump so it's easier to plan for," Byrnes said at the Oct. 4 workshop.

Arlington's rate is the lowest in the county, even after this increase from $3.45 to $6.30.

The highest rate is $16.92 in Duvall and Stanwood residents pay $12.25. Marysville collects $10 monthly and Mount Vernon collects $6.05.

"I've heard around that Mount Vernon is discussing a rate increase," Kelly said.

Businesses and institutions with large parking lots pay according to how many ESA they use, and new development can earn credits by installing storm water retention and prevention facilities.

"The utility is essential for preserving fish habitat, and to preserve the quality of our water," said Bill Blake, the city's natural resource manager and assistant director of community development.


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