Fee to handle rain water likely coming down the pike in Waynesville

Apr. 24—Waynesville property owners could be charged a new annual fee next year to offset the town's cost of handling stormwater, but for most that new fee could likely be less than $1 a month.

Town council is considering an annual stormwater fee that could be used to maintain and upgrade stormwater infrastructure. The fee is expected to generate an additional $150,000 to $200,000 a year above the $200,000 town already budgets for its stormwater system management.

The reasoning for the proposed stormwater fee is that those who contribute to run-off — namely anyone with a rooftop or parking lot — should help pay for the storm drains, gutters and culverts that have to carry all the rainwater or snow melt.

"It buys, maintains and constructs things within our stormwater system," said Assistant Town Manager Jesse Fowler. "It is expensive. We are required by the state to actually prove we are spending cash and performing work to decrease the inflow and infiltration from the stormwater system into the sewer system."

Keeping stormwater out of the sewer system is also critical to avoiding overload on the town's wastewater treatment facility.

Minimal fee for most

The idea of a stormwater charge has been raised repeatedly by Waynesville's administrative leaders since 2018, but had never been adopted. It came up once again in this year's budget discussions, and this time, it appears to have more traction among town council members who hold the final decision.

One logistical challenge has been a formula for assessing the fee, which was discussed at a town council budget workshop last week.

A vast majority of residential property owners could be charged less than $1 a month if the fee is adopted as part of the town's 2024-25 fiscal year budget. Larger residential property owners and commercial property owners should pay slightly more, town council agreed.

The fee structure is designed to spread the burden of dealing with stormwater more fairly. The fee structure could be weighted, so big-box retailers with bigger parking lots and roofs that generate a larger volume of run-off could pay more than the average residential property owner.

Fowler said it hasn't been determined if undeveloped land and farmland could be exempt from a stormwater fee. Churches and Haywood County governmental buildings are not subject to property taxes, but they could be assessed a stormwater fee.

Lot size matters

Fowler first presented a four-tiered fee schedule to town council that showed a residential tier structure of monthly charges of between $1.20 a month and $7.20 a month, depending upon property lot size. Commercial rates could range between $2.40 a month and $12 a month, also depending upon property size.

The fee system as proposed does not consider the actual amount of impervious surface on each property — the paved or developed surfaces where stormwater runs off rather than being absorbed. Because the proposal is based on lot size, it could mean that a landowner with a small dwelling on a large wooded or grassed site could pay a higher stormwater fee than a homeowner with a large home on a small lot.

Commercial fees

Council Member Jon Feichter questioned Fowler about a residential owner whose property is 0.7 acres or less paying a $1.20 a month fee while a big box retailer or large apartment complex on 2.8 acres or more pays just $12 a month.

"It's not enough," Feichter said.

Fowler said he could recalculate the tier system to charge larger commercial properties more, saying that it would reduce the amount that most residential property owners are charged to under a $1 a month, down from $1.20 a month. Other residential numbers could also decrease to get to the goal of raising around $200,000 from the fee.

Under the proposal, 78% of residential properties, or 3,739 properties of 0.7 acres or less, could be charged the lowest rate. The remaining 22% in the original proposed fee structure for residential properties of 0.7 to 1.4 acres was $2.40 a month, 1.4 to 2.1 acres was $4.80 a month and 2.1 acres and larger was $7.20 a month. But Fowler said those rates could also decline once a new fee structure is calculated to take into account charging larger commercial properties a higher monthly fee than first proposed.

"It's not a tax, it is a fee," Fowler said. "We are charging people for a service that is incredibly expensive and that is falling into dilapidation. We need money to fix it."