Milton residents might pay new stormwater fee
IF YOU GO
What: Milton City Council meeting. The meeting will discuss a proposal for a stormwater utility.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Milton City Hall, 430 E. High St.
To learn more: For more information about Milton’s proposed stormwater utility, go online to www.ci.milton.wi.us/stormwaterutility.aspx.
MILTON Milton residents, business owners and nonprofits will pay a new fee next year if the city moves forward with a proposed stormwater utility, but at least one organization is not happy about the plan.
Currently, property owners pay for stormwater management through their city property taxes. But Milton, like many other Wisconsin municipalities, has to expand its stormwater management system under new regulations from the Department of Natural Resources.
The city wants to take stormwater management off the tax rolls so it can cover the cost increase without pushing its tax levy over state-mandated limits or cutting other services.
The city council will hear the proposal and vote on a first reading at its meeting Tuesday. If approved, homeowners will pay about $87 a year to the utility starting Sept. 1.
A utility is more fair to taxpayers because it charges property owners according to how much runoff their properties create, city officials have said. Owners of tax-exempt property must pay the fee, too, spreading the costs over more payers.
Tax-exempt properties make up about 13.5 percent of the city’s impervious surfaces, City Administrator Todd Schmidt said.
The new fee doesn’t sit well with the Milton School District, which will have to pay $33,000 a year—nearly 10 percent of the utility’s budget—under the proposal.
“In one regard, you understand why the city is doing this, (but) in another regard, under the revenue limits it just puts a damper on what the district can do for the students,” said Dianne Meyer, district business manager.
The district already pays for stormwater management at Harmony Elementary School in Janesville, but that’s a small amount compared to what it will have to pay in Milton, Meyer said.
Ultimately, the fee comes out of taxpayers’ pockets either way because the school district raises much of its revenue through property taxes, she said.
The city created the proposal through a Stormwater Utility Advisory Team that included representatives of nonprofits, business, city council and homeowners. As a whole, nonprofit groups seem to understand why the city wants to charge the fee, even if they don’t like paying it, Schmidt said.
Milton is not the only city to turn to a stormwater utility. As of May, 64 Wisconsin communities had a stormwater utility, including Janesville, Beloit, Madison and Monroe. Evansville created a stormwater utility this year.
Here are some questions and answers about Milton’s proposed stormwater utility.
Q: Why does the city want to create the utility?
A: The city is dealing with increased stormwater regulations from the state Department of Natural Resources and the federal Clean Water Act. The increased costs of regulation make it difficult to keep stormwater management on the city tax rolls without cutting services in other areas, City Administrator Todd Schmidt said.
The regulations require new administrative, maintenance and construction to control stormwater and the particles it collects as it makes its way back to bodies of water.
Milton understands its responsibility to reduce the impact of stormwater runoff, but it’s frustrated that the DNR holds it to the same regulations as municipalities where stormwater runs directly into lakes and rivers, Schmidt said. Most stormwater in Milton goes to manmade basins, with very little running into natural bodies of water.
Q: How will the city determine the fee?
A: The proposed utility has a budget of $350,000 a year. The city used aerial photos and site plans to determine impervious areas, or places where stormwater doesn’t seep into the ground, such as roofs, driveways and parking lots.
It determined the average single-family home or duplex has 4,081 square feet of impervious surface. That total makes up one equivalent runoff unit. Each homeowner will be charged for one unit and pay about $87 a year under the proposal. Commercial and other buildings will be charged according to their amount of impervious surface expressed in runoff units.
Undeveloped lots, public roads and railroad right-of-ways won’t be charged.
Q: Will my property taxes go down because of this utility?
A: It’s too early to say, Schmidt said. The city will no longer use property taxes to pay for stormwater management, but it still has other expenses and is going into a tough budget year. Next year’s property taxes will be determined by the city council when it approves the budget in fall.
Q: How does the proposed fee compare to fees in other municipalities?
A: The proposed $87 fee is higher than most of the fees listed on a sample of stormwater utilities given to the advisory group. Beloit and Janesville, for example, charge $24 and $27 respectively for each equivalent runoff unit. Madison charges $55.
But you can’t directly compare all municipalities, Schmidt said. Some municipalities don’t use one single-family home as the basis for its equivalent runoff unit, so homes could be several units. Some municipalities use property taxes as well as a utility to pay for stormwater management.
Also, municipalities with more commercial buildings can shift more of the stormwater costs onto those owners, resulting in less burden on homeowners, Schmidt said.