Winder leaders nearing decision on stormwater

WINDER -- In a third special-called public hearing Thursday, several of Winder's councilmen and city staff members met to discuss how to best fund the necessary stormwater repair and maintenance projects in the city. The question has hung in the air for months, while the list of both immediate and future infrastructure projects grows.

H.S. Feldman Inc., the consulting firm that the city of Winder plans to pay a little more than $300,000 this year for its management and consulting services, has identified a list of projects with a total price tag of $155,000. These projects have been deemed immediate priorities and range from simple cleaning, spraying and cutting to underground pipe repair and replacement to more involved projects.

A separate list of projects has been identified as necessary but not emergencies. Based on City Council and staff best estimates, Winder has to budget for $475,000 in consulting and repair costs for this year alone. The question of how to fund the repairs is still up in the air, though staff members will be working for the next couple of weeks on calculating and presenting different billing scenarios.

At 10 a.m. on Nov. 4, a fourth public hearing will take place in the Community Center. At that hearing, Ernie Graham, former Winder city administrator and current consultant for the city, will present different collection mechanisms in an attempt to help officials determine the best way to bill property owners, residents and businesses for the necessary stormwater management fees.

Some scenarios involve a tax, some a fee, but the bottom line is that the city has to collect an additional $475,000 this year. Graham will show leaders how an additional sewer fee, a flat-rate fee and a two-tiered fee would work to achieve that goal at next month's public hearing.

"We'll run different calculations in different scenarios" to determine which is best, Graham said.

"Everything's on the table," said councilman Ridley Parrish, who chairs the stormwater committee tasked with identifying and funding projects. "I want to consider every possibility that places the least burden on the citizens of Winder."

The flat-rate billing scenario would charge every customer the same amount monthly -- about $7.50, or $90 per year. The more complicated two-tier system would base the fee a customer pays on the amount of square footage of impervious surface on the property.

Mayor Pro Tem Sonny Morris stated Thursday that he wants the formula used to calculate the fees to be fair, with businesses paying their fair share of the burden. Councilman David Maynard agreed but stated that businesses would likely pass their higher costs on to customers anyway. The flat-rate fee could be included on customers' sewer bills, but the two-tiered rate would have to be calculated and sent to customers on a separate bill.

Jim Cooley, a representative of Citizens of Barrow County for Change, asked city leaders Thursday whether they plan to pursue any of the federal grant money available to cities for stormwater projects. Parrish assured Cooley that all possibilities will be investigated.

There is a possibility that SPLOST funds can be earmarked to help fund future stormwater maintenance and repair projects, but that help would not be available until 2012 when the funds would become available.