Residents voice concerns regarding Albemarle’s proposed stormwater program
Published 2:46 pm Tuesday, May 17, 2022
Michael Stovall may have been speaking for many people in the room Monday night when he was discussing his hesitations with the City of Albemarle’s proposed stormwater management program, especially the flat fee of $11.50 residents would pay each month.
With so many people still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and with inflation at its highest point in 40 years, the Resurrection Community Church pastor expressed concern that many people would struggle to pay the monthly fee, which would be used for stormwater system design, construction, repair and maintenance.
“Why now?” he asked the city council members during a public input session about establishing the new program. “Why must we do it at this time?”
Stovall was not alone in his opposition. Ten other people spoke against the proposed program, which if approved would cost the city $2.5 million annually to manage. Part of the money would go into hiring eight staff members to help oversee the new department.
Stormwater has become such a big issue in the state that North Carolina is mandating many communities have their own stormwater management plan. The city wants to be proactive and enact its program before it would be required to do so by the state.
While everyone who spoke agreed flooding was a major concern for the city, they believed the fee was too high and that WK Dickson, a Charlotte-based community infrastructure consulting firm that has been working with the city for more than a year, did not take enough time to talk with property and business owners who have been most affected over the years.
Richard Almond, owner of Crook Motor Company, was concerned about the burden the fee would have for his business, noting it would cost around $8,000 to $10,000 a year in added taxes.
Non-residential properties (businesses, churches, schools, etc.) would be billed monthly based on dividing the total impervious surface of the property by the Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) (determined to be 3,270 square feet) and multiplying that amount by $11.50. So if a large property has 720,000 square feet of impervious surface, it would cost them about $2,500 a month.
“I think there’s something that needs to be done, but I think adding a whole other department and those type fees, I think it’s tough on the people out here trying to make it,” Almond said.
While Albemarle native Carla Weyrick, whose family owns 11 properties within the city, seven of which regularly experience flooding, was also concerned with property owners having to pay high monthly fees, she felt the consultants at WK Dickson did not do enough to meet with business and property owners most impacted.
“The consulting company continually kept saying that they were talking to the property owners…that they were reaching out to let the property owners know how much their bills were going to go up…and I can say for a fact that I know of three companies that have been flooded and not a single one of those consultants ever reached out to us,” Weyrick told council.
Several people who spoke, including Weyrick, mentioned the $11.50 fee was too high compared to what similar-sized municipalities pay. According to the 2021-2022 NC Residential Stormwater Utility Fee Dashboard, created by UNC’s Environmental Finance Center, the average utility fee for municipalities across the state, as of July, is $4.85. If Albemarle’s fee were to get approved, it would be the fourth-highest, behind only Carolina Beach ($16.50), Charlotte ($16.40) and Kure Beach ($15).
Some of the speakers mentioned the city could look into enacting a tiered fee scale, similar to what other municipalities have done. The residentsof Apex, for example, pay a monthly fee corresponding to how many square feet of impervious surface they have. Residents with 400 to 1,500 square feet (Tier 1), pay $1.50 a month while residents with more than 4,000 square feet (Tier 4) pay $10 a month.
“If you’re going to charge a cost and a fee so high, is that fee going to be to help the property owners or are you going to continue to have them have to pay and bail themselves out, continually and repeatedly for the flooding that they have,” Weyrick said.
Another issue many people voiced was about the logistics of how the money would be spent. Tom Hearne wanted to see specifics showing what projects would be prioritized should the stormwater program be approved.
“We are told how much money is needed and how many new employees are needed, but we are not told where this money is going to be spent on specific projects,” Hearn said.
Billy Mills was concerned with WK Dickson’s lack of knowledge about the issue. He mentioned that Tom Murray, the stormwater program manager with WK Dickson who has worked with the city for the past year, struggled to identify the names of many of the creeks in the city during a recent public input session.
“I think you should know that,” he said.
In a phone interview Tuesday morning, Mayor Ronnie Michael said he was grateful to all the residents who shared their thoughts and emphasized that nothing regarding the stormwater plan has been finalized by city council.
“At this point, the city has not made any decision whether to move forward,” he said.
Council has several budget work sessions in the coming weeks, where it will take what the residents have said into consideration. During these sessions, Council will “discuss whether they want to implement, how they want to implement, what level they want to implement, which in turn affects the cost,” Michael said.
He hopes a decision about the stormwater program can be made on June 6, when a public hearing will be held for the upcoming budget, after which council will vote whether to approve the budget.