Stormwater Utility Fee
How Stormwater Affects You
Stormwater affects everyone who lives in Athens-Clarke County. Even if your property has never had a drainage problem, the stormwater runoff that comes from your property must be managed to prevent flooding further downstream.
The roads that we travel every day have stormwater systems that must be managed and maintained so that you can travel safely, even in the worst of storms. Maintenance is also important because we all depend on our streams and rivers to provide drinking water and safe recreational areas for our community.
What does your Stormwater Utility Fee Pay for?
Just as we all contribute to the stormwater system, we all receive the benefits of the utility. Those benefits are many, including:
- Fulfilling our Federal and State permit requirements
- Water quality sampling
- Illicit discharge detection and prevention
- Cleaning of stormdrains, curbs, swales, and stormwater pipes
- Flood reduction projects
- Stormwater infrastructure maintenance and mapping
- Construction site erosion prevention and site inspections
- Education programs and trainings
History of the Stormwater Utility Fee
On October 18, 1972, the Federal Water Pollution Act of 1972 was enacted. Better known as the Clean Water Act, it was established "... to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters." This act ensures that residents can be confident that their local communities are working diligently to protect the waters in their area.
Nonpoint source pollution is one of the biggest threats facing the health of our nation's waters. For this reason, the federal government has required that Athens-Clarke County, and hundreds of other towns of similar size all across the country, meet certain guidelines in how to properly manage stormwater. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Municipal Separate Sewer System (MS4) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit System to address nonpoint source pollution. The MS4 stormwater discharge permit establishes guidelines for local governments to minimize pollutants in stormwater runoff to the "...maximum extent practicable."
In 1990, the EPA required large and medium cities (population greater than 100,000) to receive an NPDES Phase I permit. In 1999, the EPA expanded the NPDES permit to Phase II, which included smaller urban areas (population greater than 10,000). Athens-Clarke County received its NPDES Phase II permit under this expansion. This designation required Athens-Clarke County to develop a stormwater management program addressing six key areas:
- Public education and outreach
- Public involvement and participation in the stormwater program
- Elimination of unlawful or illicit discharges
- Controls on new construction
- Post-construction management of wet-weather runoff
- Implementation of good housekeeping activities for municipal operations
In accordance with the Phase II permit, Athens-Clarke County was required to develop, implement, and enforce best management practices (BMPs) for stormwater management. Though Athens-Clarke County provided stormwater services for the county before these regulations took effect, the mandated program represented a significant increase from existing services. The Athens-Clarke County Unified Government chose to fund the implementation of these measures through the establishment of a stormwater utility in July of 2005, and with the establishment of this fee came a decrease in property tax rates (the millage rate was reduced from 13.40 to 12.80).
The Athens-Clarke County commissioners, with the input of the community through the Stormwater Advisory Committee, determined that establishing a stormwater utility would be the ideal way to successfully implement and fund an effective stormwater management program. Alternative sources of funding, such as property tax assessments for stormwater management, were also considered. However, raising property tax assessments to fully fund the program would not distribute the costs fairly. Ideally, the owners of properties who contribute considerable amounts of runoff to the stormwater system should be charged more than those that do not. By raising the tax rate, everyone is charged a similar rate regardless of their specific property use or on-site stormwater controls.
Some of the largest contributors to stormwater runoff, including schools, churches, and government buildings, are tax-exempt and would not pay their share through property taxes. Through the utility, these property owners pay a stormwater utility fee just as they pay for their water and sewer utility fees. The establishment of a stormwater utility ensures that everyone pays their fair share for the safe management of stormwater and sound protection of water quality in Athens-Clarke County.