Most homeowners agree stormwater fee 'a necessary evil'

LAWRENCEVILLE - They weren't happy about the bill, but most homeowners who attended a session on Gwinnett's new stormwater utility agreed that something should be done to save the environment from the effects of development.

"I'm not pleased with it being another tax," Gary Lohsen said of the $22.79 bill officials computed Wednesday night. "But the infrastructure is deteriorating. Now there's a need and now they need to fund it."

Tom Flynn of Snellville agreed.

"It's a necessary evil. It has to be dealt with," Flynn said. "It's to fix what's already been broken."

Beginning with this year's tax bills, landowners will be charged fees based on the amount of impervious surface such as roofs and driveways that prevents rainwater from soaking into the ground.

Development causes the rain to rush along the surface and the ground to erode.

During the open house Wednesday, officials explained the program and even used geographic imaging software to compute people's bills, which are expected to average around $30 for homeowners in 2006 and rise to nearly $100 in 2009.

"It's unfair that there are no exemptions for seniors. Taxes are high enough as it is," said Otis Conner, a 62-year-old who lives outside Lawrenceville.

But as he learned about the program while walking around with Magda Case, Conner said he understood the need.

Case said she's had to deal with stormwater issues in her neighborhood for a decade.

"The stormwater from the roads comes near my house, and all the debris ends up in my backyard," she said.

Case asked Public Utilities Director Frank Stephens if the new utility would finally mean she can get some help on her drainage issues.

Stephens said he did not know the answer to Case's situation, but the scope of the county's stormwater work would increase dramatically.

Nancy Brideau, a member of the Sierra Club, said the stormwater utility was the right solution for the environment.

"With all the development, we've just got to bite the bullet," she said.

But Flynn said the county needs to improve its development standards to prevent more problems from occurring.

Ed Nichols of Lawrenceville agreed. He was interested in the county's decision this week to begin studying developer impact fees to pay for infrastructure needs in the future. But he added that the needs of the past have to be taken care of.

"Somebody's got to pay for this," he said of the stormwater fee. "It's just another cost to live in Gwinnett County."

Stephens said a committee is now meeting to consider changing the materials allowed for stormwater pipes from steel to concrete, which lasts longer.

Soon, the county will begin working on a credits manual to give breaks to landowners that go the extra mile to protect the environment.

Stephens said he received some ideas from the citizens who attended the meeting, including several who talked about comparing a ratio of how much impervious land there is on a lot to the pervious land. In that equation, people who owns large tracts such as farms might have a lower fee.