May 5, 2014

Ithaca Considers New Stormwater Proposal

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Under a proposal being considered by the City, Cornell could be charged a $130,000 annual stormwater management fee in order to implement a more equitable distribution for sharing the costs of the City’s stormwater management.

According to Alderperson Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward), Ithaca residents are currently charged for stormwater management as part of their property taxes, while owners with some tax-exempt property such as Cornell do not currently contribute to the stormwater management budget. Residents currently pay about $100 per year in stormwater management fees, according to the Stormwater Task Force Fact Sheet. If implemented, the proposal would lower that cost to about $48 per year.

Alderperson Stephen Smith (D-4th Ward) said Ithaca spends about $800,000 a year on storm water drainage, though a lot of this money goes toward management of the tax-exempt properties.

“The old system is regressive. [The] cost is distributed to companies, homeowners and renters through property taxes,” he said. “This is unfair because residential properties typically absorb much of their rainwater with lawns and plant life and nonprofits don’t contribute.”

In September, Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 created a stormwater task force to come up with recommendations, according to City Attorney Aaron Lavine, leader of the task force. The proposal suggested by the task force would charge fees based on the “square footage of impervious surface per lot,” according to the Fact Sheet.

While Cornell would pay the largest portion — $130,000 — of the newly distributed taxes, the City would pay $46,000, Wal-Mart would pay $15,500 and Wegmans would pay $12,000, the Fact Sheet said.

Lavine said he believes it is appropriate that entities that generate larger volumes of stormwater should pay more.

Kerslick agreed, adding that he likes the idea of “more equitably distributing the costs of managing the City’s stormwater.”

“There is already discussion of some type of credit for those property owners who implement measures to reduce stormwater runoff, such as holding ponds or reducing areas of impervious surface,” Kerslick said. “Such measures will likely reduce the overall burden on the City, and should be actively encouraged.”

Smith said he also supports the proposal.

“I think it’s important for places with large, impermeable parking lots and buildings to contribute more since they generate a disproportionate amount of runoff, costing the average Ithaca household $100 per year,” he said.

According to Kerslick, the proposal will next be reviewed in the coming months by the City Administration committee of the Common Council.

“This will provide opportunities for public input and allow the proposal to be considered from a range of perspectives,” Kerslick said. “At this early stage it is difficult to predict the outcome of the proposal. There may be changes and revisions as the proposal moves through the legislative process.”

Smith said he thinks the proposal has a “great shot” at passing, because it will help to create a “more progressive funding model,” while Lavine said that stormwater management is a “low-profile” but a “very important” issue.

“Most people don’t think about it a lot, but it’s very costly and has major impacts on the city,” Lavine said. “We are looking to better apportion those costs.”

The University declined to comment Monday afternoon.