UG commissioner comes up with his own stormwater plan

Commissioner Brian McKiernan has come up with his own solution to the community’s stormwater problems.

The UG Commission had discussed several options for stormwater management fees without really coming to a solution these past few years.

The UG has scheduled a stormwater user fee question-and-answer session at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, on Facebook live and Zoom. During a 45-minute session, residents and others who are interested may ask questions to the public works director and the public works community engagement officer. The Zoom link for Tuesday’s meeting is https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82448467061. The meeting ID number is 824 4846 7061. To access the meeting by phone, call toll-free 888-475-4499 or 877-853-5257.

At the Nov. 18 UG meeting, Commissioner McKiernan presented his own plan for stormwater fees, which he felt was fairer than some earlier plans. His model, which he has worked on for a few years, was individually calculated per property.

At the same time, the UG has another alternate tiered stormwater option it is proposing.

The UG Commission is scheduled to discuss the stormwater fees again at its meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2. Simultaneously, there is a vote scheduled that day on a revolving loan from the state to use for stormwater. That loan issue was advanced from the Monday night, Nov. 29, UG Economic Development and Finance Committee meeting.

A tiered plan has been proposed by the UG that would have a low monthly rate for residential customers, and a tiered rate for all other customers, based on the size of their parking lots, impervious surfaces and paved areas. At the Nov. 18 meeting, Commissioner McKiernan voiced his opinion that a tiered plan would be inequitable across different property sizes and across different ratepayers.

He illustrated this “inequity” by describing what Tier 4 customers would pay for 49,999 square feet of impervious surfaces – $95 – as opposed to what Tier 5 customers would pay for 50,001 square feet of impervious surfaces – $375.

Also under one of the UG plans, a Tier 5 customer with 2.5 million square feet of impervious surfaces would pay the same fee, $375, as the customer with 50,001 square feet, and Commissioner McKiernan said he considered that inequitable.

His model still had a gap of $10 million to $12 million between what was needed by the county for the stormwater services and what was raised through the fees.

He suggested using ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding to make up the difference, and lessen the burden on the taxpayers.

According to the UG, to qualify for funding from the WIFIA (Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) program, the UG needs to have a plan in place by the end of 2021.

Mayor David Alvey said he would prefer that the stormwater program be self-sustaining. Long-term, as a maintenance fund, it needs to generate its own funding, not pull revenues away from the general fund, he said. He also said he supported an equitable rate, adding it was a defensible solution.

McKiernan said he understood that the community had many needs that were sharpened by COVID, and there are many ways to spend those ARPA dollars besides slowing the rate of the rise of stormwater fees.

Public Works Department officials said they have different options, with or without ARPA, that they could talk through. They face deadlines for the WIFIA funding. They urged the commission to take action on one of the two options.

If action isn’t taken, it could turn into a failed system within 10 years, according to Public Works officials.

At the special session, there was support for McKiernan’s plan from some of the commissioners,

Administrator Doug Bach said there could be many different grant programs the UG could apply for, and there were different options available, not just only using ARPA funding, although that is an option.

Commissioner Harold Johnson said he was more confident knowing the UG has options. Knowing there were other means gave him confidence to support McKiernan’s proposals, he said.

Commissioner Tom Burroughs said he hadn’t voted for any of the plans moving forward. They finally have a plan in place that a majority of small and large businesses can agree on, he said.

“What concerns me greatly is all of a sudden every plan is just fantastic as long as we supplement it with ARPA funding,” Burroughs said. “We don’t know how much ARPA money we’re going to need or use, but we can’t wait to spend it. And that concerns me greatly.”

He said he voted against the plan to put ARPA dollars back into the budget, which denied the commissioners the chance to direct how to spend them.

Burroughs said the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce was supportive of the five-tiered rate structure described by Public Works officials.

He also he doesn’t believe the numbers were reflected correctly in the budget. He pointed out the roads were atrocious on the south side. And he wanted to wait until the middle of December to consider the stormwater issue.

Commissioner McKiernan said he understood the concerns about him bringing these concerns up, and whatever the commission decides to do was fine with him.

Commissioner Gayle Townsend asked if the shortfall money would solve the problem for three or four years, and then they would be back having a similar discussion about stormwater.

Bach said there was a drawdown structure with the WIFIA funds. Public Works officials said if they didn’t fill the gap immediately, there would still be some programs done. They would have five years after completion of the work to start paying for it. Some smaller projects could be cut.

Bach said adopting either McKiernan’s plan or the tiered plan would allow them to move forward.

Commissioner Townsend was concerned that the homeowners in her district would not be burdened with anything more.

“There has been an increase; I am adamant there would be no more,” she said.

The WIFIA loan, as proposed, would be around $150 million in low-interest loans, according to Public Works officials. Without it, they wouldn’t be able to do several large stormwater projects.

Commissioner Jane Philbrook said they need time to put together their proposal. They need a specific plan for their proposal due by the end of the year.

She asked if they would want to take a straw poll on how many commissioners supported McKiernan’s plan, but that was not done. Mayor Alvey said they wouldn’t vote until Dec. 2 and wouldn’t assume they would move one direction or another.

Commissioner Melissa Bynum said she was supportive of Commissioner McKiernan’s plan but wanted to know if there were opportunities to hear from the public about it. A public hearing would be required, Alvey said.

Commissioner Burroughs said in talking with the chamber members, they could accept the five-tiered plan because there was certainty built into it. He said as a fiscal conservative, he thinks the ARPA dollars should be used in a prudent manner. He wanted to make sure they could get the best return on investment if they used any of the ARPA funds.

Commissioner McKiernan’s presentation about his stormwater plan took place during the Nov. 18 special UG meeting and is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wk0f8dSvQ2U, beginning at 39:33.

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