Snellville delays setting utility rate

SNELLVILLE - In front of a packed house at City Hall Monday night, Snellville Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer and council members listened to expert findings regarding the city's stormwater management needs.

Recent, more stringent federal regulations such as the Clean Water Act require local governments to make vast improvements to their stormwater runoff management systems. These same governments must also comply with strict inspection and reporting guidelines.

Until about two years ago, Snellville and all other Gwinnett municipalities depended on the county to help them stay in compliance with Federal stormwater mandates. But when county officials told cities they would increase the cost of this assistance, most Gwinnett cities banded together and outsourced the services. According to Richard Greuel of Integrated Science and Engineering, these cities realized a combined savings of about $600,000 by taking the task out of the county's hands and taking it on themselves.

The cost of all this new reporting, infrastructure improvements and other compliance mandates must be paid by the city, and Snellville property owners will foot the bill by paying a stormwater utility fee. Since the assessment is called a fee and not a tax, schools, churches and other nonprofit organizations will be billed along with property and business owners.

Councilwoman Barbara Bender said this scenario is more fair than assessing a tax, since nonresidential properties generate more stormwater runoff than the typical residential property.

The ISE consultants recommended a three-tier system to determine how much each property owner should pay for their stormwater runoff. The amount of impervious surface on properties determines the fee property owners will be billed.

But several residents objected to both the recommended billing rate ($6.30 per billing unit, or $75.60/year for the average home) and the recommended basis for credit allowances.

For example, if a homeowner places rain barrels at downspouts, that would earn a small credit toward the annual fee. The credit manual also recommended that schools receive a 40 percent credit for teaching students about water runoff and conservation, which translates to hundreds or even thousands of dollars in credit to a school.

Residents voiced frustration about other projects the city has chosen to fund, while knowing this stormwater management issue loomed in the near future. City resident Suzanne Krieger asked how the city would spent the $650,000 they have historically spent from SPLOST and the general fund to comply with stormwater management requirements.

Several residents said especially in this time of rising fuel and other costs, another fee is too much of a burden on residents on a fixed income.

Council members voted unanimously to postpone setting the stormwater utility rate and related credits until the July 14 city council meeting. Property owners will receive their first bill under separate cover through the mail, but in subsequent years the fee will appear on property tax bills.