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City takes over surface water billing
MARYSVILLE As the city takes over billing for surface water utilities from Snohomish County, officials have maintained that no increases are on the horizon, just a shift in how the money is collected. But one property owner is wondering why his bill has doubled for the Grove Street duplex he owns.
In the past anytime a raindrop hit an impervious surface, Snohomish County was billing property owners for managing the run-off from the roof to the gutter, driveway and street drain, all the way to Puget Sound. The bill was sent to property owners on their property tax bills: now the city is billing owners directly. Letters explaining the change hit mailboxes last week, including Truman Hegges.
Hegge wants to know why his bill has gone from $96 last year to more than $220 for 2007. He has owned a duplex rental property in the city limits for two years and was surprised to see a jump in the fee. Particularly galling for the former policeman is that fact that he was forced to install an underground cistern to allow rain from the houses roof to infiltrate and seep into the ground. If the infiltration system drains it all into the ground, Hegge wants to know why hes billed for run-off, since it doesnt run off.
Why would I be billed twice? Hegge asked.
He has a meeting scheduled with the public works department to find out why hes paying more. Heres what they are going to tell him:
First, the federal government has increased the standards for surface water run-off. According to Public Works Department director Paul Roberts, thats non-negotiable and if the city doesnt upgrade the run-off that flows into Quilceda and Allen creeks the city will wind up in court. The city saw this coming and decided to get on the ball early and adopt Washington States newer, tougher rules, called the DOE book. He balked at the pun, but the new federal and state laws have trickled down to the city. That is reflected in the new bills, which were on county property bills in the past. As the city was responsible, the public works department also revamped how it calculated the fee, based on the actual impervious area on a building site.
Were going to have a lot more storm water obligations, Roberts said, adding the consensus was to get on the ball ahead of time. So lets put a rate structure together.
Commercial structures pay for the actual amount of roof top and asphalt they have: the Marysville Mall on State Avenue pays about $1,000 per month for rain, essentially. Residential property owners are billed for an average amount and that is based on more accurate footage reports compiled by staffers. Aerial photos of more than 300 housing units were digitized and mapped by engineers, resulting in an average figure of 3,200 square feet of impervious surface for each single family house. That is what people are being billed for.
Its a way fair system, city engineer Kevin Nielsen said.
Many single family home owners will be seeing a decrease in their bills, according to surface water program engineer Kari Chennault, who said the program is revenue neutral and that Marysville wont collect anymore funds this year than last.
Its not expected to increase, Chennault said. There are a large number of people out there who are going down. We dont hear from those people.
Chennault said Hegge is being billed for the rental property as a duplex, or two units. Last year he paid $96 for both, now he is being billed for 2.3 residential units at the same rate, based on the average surface area.
Last year it was billed as a single family house, but it is a commercial structure, she explained.
The rate has stayed the same but the multiplier has changed, reflecting a more accurate assessment, according to Chennault, who said the county was going in the same direction and is sending the same type of letters to property owners. Thats the whole point.
As for the 360 square-foot infiltration system Hegge had to build, it doesnt handle every drop of surface water that lands on the property, because the city is responsible for the streets that surround and service the duplex and Hegge benefits from those off-site functions too.
As for the run-off that filters straight down in the ground, it will find the water table and then make its way to Quil Ceda or Allen creeks, or Ebey Slough and hence to Puget Sound. The city is liable for everything that flows into the waterways or water table and Hegge has to pay his share. Some of the benefits include the public works departments activities such as cleaning and maintaining the ubiquitous street drains and the hundreds of surface detention ponds that help keep Puget Sound clean. The funds also help pay for items like the new $360,000 Vactor truck the city just ordered. Two others just like it suck up muck and mud from vaults that help separate oil and pollutants from surface water. Some of these are in city parks, such as the newly renovated detention pond at Jennings Nature Park.
Theres a saying here, no man is an island, Nielsen said, adding that the city has to take care of flooding, beaver dams, people dumping junk into basins and other chores often performed out of sight. Whether somebody pours a quart of oil into a street drain or on their own soil, the pollution will find its way into the 200 feet of sand that makes up the Marysville Trough the city sits on. The city is responsible for the water table under every piece of property, he added.
Its a complicated system, said Roberts, noting that everyone pays a premium for living in salmon country. His department has gotten several calls. We can be sued by third parties and the city would be liable.