August 26, 2014

New Law: Cornell Must Pay $130K in Stormwater Fees

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By AIMEE CHO

Under a new law passed Aug. 6 by the Ithaca Common Council, Cornell will now be charged an additional $130,000 a year by the city for stormwater fees.

The new law will lower Ithaca residents’ annual fees from $100 to $48, while Cornell and other tax-exempt properties — which do not currently make any formal payments toward stormwater fees — will be charged fees based on square footage of impervious surface, The Sun previously reported. Tax-exempt properties that have their own stormwater management systems can receive a credit of up to 20 percent of their fee, according to The Ithaca Times.

Christopher Bordlemay, Cornell Water and Wastewater manager, said he supports the concept of a new stormwater utility fee structure, but that he disagrees with the speed at which the legislation was pushed forward.

“More analysis related to rate structures needed to be performed in order to create a more long-term sustainable stormwater utility,” he said.

Bordlemay also said he feels that the credit rate of 20 percent passed by the city is “too low.”

“The credit rate is meant to provide incentive for property owners to mitigate their stormwater,” he said. “Give [better] credit to those who are, or who have taken, steps to implement stormwater mitigating features.”

Cornell currently maintains a “vast network of stormwater infrastructure,” which includes retention basins, rain catchment systems and 190,000 linear feet of stormwater piping, according to Bordlemay.

The Common Council passed the stormwater legislation in an 8-2 vote on Aug. 6. In an email, Alderperson Stephen Smith (D-4th Ward) said he voted in favor of the legislation in order to create a “more equitable funding mechanism.”

“Before this legislation, homeowners and renters were covering more of costs proportionate to how much stormwater they were generating. Properties with large buildings and parking lots were not paying their fair share. And non-profits weren’t paying anything at all,” he said. “Under the new system, most will pay according to how much stormwater they generate.”

Smith added that Cornell does “great work” mitigating water on North Campus, but that “not much, if anything” is done for Cascadilla Creek.

“Cascadilla is the creek that overflowed last winter leading to severe neighborhood damage and is also in need of significant repairs for the retaining walls that lead up to Cayuga Street,” he said.

Alderperson Deborah Mohlenhoff (D-5th Ward), who also voted in favor of the legislation, described it as a “viable and flexible solution to the increasing financial challenges in maintaining the city’s aging infrastructure,” but also said that Cornell’s concerns are “extremely valid.”

The new stormwater fee structure will go into effect in January 2015, according to Bordlemay. The next step for Cornell is to work with the City and the Board of Public Works to develop applicable credits for Cornell, he said.

Mohlenhoff said she looks forward to seeing what the Board of Public Works designs as the credit program and the definitions of mitigation techniques.

“Cornell’s input will be extremely useful as we work to design those elements of the program,” she said.

Bordlemay described the new fee structure as a “work in progress.” “It is my hope that the Board of Public Works recognizes all that Cornell does to improve stormwater quality, to reduce peak stormwater flow and to provide a cost-avoidance for the City,” he said.

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