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Mayor proposes charge for drainage projects

December 21, 2011

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman proposed a storm sewer utility charge to address current and future flooding issues across Starkville during Tuesday’s board of aldermen meeting.
The utility would charge $2.50 monthly per residential unit and $5 monthly per commercial unit, generating approximately $400,000 in annual revenue. Wiseman said this funding would help pay for three major drainage projects and 19 other projects costing an estimated $2.4-2.7 million in total.
Wiseman said 10 years of projected revenues to pay for such projects will add up to only $1.39 million, leaving the city without enough funds to address all the projects if nothing changes. He said he has studied the problem extensively and decided a storm sewer utility is “one of the most intriguing options.”
“I think it’s become painfully obvious over the past year that the current program we have for repair and maintenance of our storm sewer issues is not on a sustainable course,” Wiseman said. “Most recently, when we heard reports from the city engineer on the escalating costs related to two major storm sewer projects, I told this board that I did not think our current program is on a sustainable course, as the revenue projections we have over the next 10 years are starting to fall woefully short of the projected expenses that we have for our storm sewer program.”
Wiseman began his presentation with graphical illustrations of the way storm water runoff increases as development increases because development makes the ground less permeable and absorbent for storm water. The result, he said, is increased strain on the storm sewer system, with larger volumes of water traveling faster, increasing erosion, wearing down infrastructure and flooding areas with channels too small for the increased runoff.
Wiseman used his own home in Longmeadow as an example of how development contributes to runoff, pointing it out on City Engineer Edward Kemp’s map of the city’s major storm water basins.
“I don’t directly come in contact with any storm sewer issues that cause me issues on my property on a day-to-day basis just because of where my property is situated,” Wiseman said. “We don’t have an open channel in the vicinity of my house or anything like that. That does not mean that I don’t contribute to the storm sewer issues that somebody else might experience. As the previous slide shows, I have a piece of property that has added impervious surface that is sending more runoff into that system.”
Wiseman then outlined 28 drainage issues the city has already committed to addressing, plus three more he said Kemp identified as needing attention in the future. Nine of them have already been resolved, Wiseman said, at the expense of $545,978 over the past six years.
Of the 22 remaining projects, Wiseman said, 19 have an estimated cost of $250,000 or less, with some costing as little as $1,000-$5,000. The other three carry a total estimated cost of $1.7 million.
Two of these projects are familiar, Wiseman said. The Carver Drive project calls for completion of a piping project begun a number of years ago in J.L. King Park, he said, with an initial cost estimate of $790,422. On Maple Drive, he said, homes have previously flooded, and a project to raise its drainage system’s capacity carries an initial cost estimate of $562,744.
Both projects would increase the system’s capacity to accommodate a 100-year storm event, he said.
Wiseman said the public may be less aware of a problem Kemp reported to him last spring, a project with an initial cost estimate of $350,904.
“There is a pipe abutting the Colonial Hills subdivision and the Timbercove subdivision that the city installed sometime in the 1990s,” Wiseman said. “That pipe is currently in a failing state. It hasn’t completely failed, but the city engineer characterizes it as a ticking time bomb. At some point it will completely fail, and when it completely fails, water can no longer pass through the pipe. We don’t know exactly where that water goes, but we know it’s directly adjacent to a residential area.”
Wiseman said the city could save substantial money on major projects by performing the services in-house instead of contracting them to private companies. The most substantial example, he said, was Maple Drive, where the city could save $132,583 while using only 13 percent of the street department’s annual man-hours. However, he said, other projects would require more of the street department’s time, with Carver Drive taking 40 percent at a savings of $123,151 and Colonial Hills taking 20 percent at a savings of $38,797.
Wiseman then proposed the storm sewer utility and outlined its costs, saying the funds would not only address current problems, but also future issues likely to arise from increased development. After the presentation, Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said she had seen a trend of other cities using storm sewer utilities to address similar problems and Wiseman’s point about the future was important.
“There really is no end to this process because we will continue to identify more problems as time goes on,” Sistrunk said. “Even in the cases where we fix some of the problems, they will eventually fail. Colonial Hills is an example. These things are not meant to last for all time. There will be an ongoing need in the city as long as there’s a city here.”
Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey asked City Attorney Chris Latimer if he had investigated legal avenues for the development of a storm sewer utility. Latimer said he had not.
“This is the first night I’ve heard about the concept,” Latimer said. “I would need to look into it to be assured of the legality of it.”

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