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Stormwater utility fees proposed by city


The City of Reno is considering adding a stormwater utility by amending the Reno Municipal Code with a proposed ordinance that, if adopted, will go into effect July 1, 2023. 

This last series of storms that the region endured had a large impact on the snowpack and water levels in Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River, so much so government agencies are predicting a possible end to the drought. 

But was there enough flooding to warrant the creation of a new stormwater utility?

“This has actually been in the works for a long time,” said Jonathan Simpson, an engineer for the City of Reno. “The city has known it has a need to do improvements to the drainage and storm drain infrastructure here in the city. 

“I believe it was 2018 [when] our city council directed our engineering staff to look at a stormwater utility model and do a feasibility study at that time. Since then we’ve returned back to our city council probably four or five times with different portions of moving this stormwater utility forward,” Simpson added.

The purpose of the stormwater utility fee would be to cover costs related to maintenance of flood response, repair and replacement to improvements to the city’s drainage system. The monthly Equivalent Residential Unit or ERU Rate would be calculated at $13.46 per month. 

“The rate fee is commonly used among different agencies across the country,” Simpson said. “We have hired a consultant that has looked at various options around the country and what works best and what is most equitable for all the property owners here in the city. Ultimately the determination was to use something called impervious area.”

Impervious area specifies any land that doesn’t allow rainwater to be absorbed directly into the ground, such as buildings or paved areas. This means that a single-family home has less impervious area compared to a business with the main building and paved areas like the parking lot. 

Single-family residential properties would be split into three tiers, one being the smallest and three being the largest, where the impervious area will be measured by square feet. 

Tier one would be between 400-2,400 square feet and valued at 0.6 ERUs. Tier two would be between 2,401-5,000 square feet and worth 1.0 ERU. Tier three would be anything over 5,000 square feet and worth 1.7 ERUs. 

Non-single family properties include businesses, government buildings, apartment complexes, commercial and industrial buildings. These would have a separate tax that is calculated based on total impervious area.

For these  properties with an ERU greater than four, the initial rate would also increase over a three-year period, with owners paying 33% of the full rate the first year, 66% the second year, and the full rate from the third year on. 

If approved this year, the rate ramp-up would continue through 2026 but would  not apply to new developments after 2026. 

The use of fees collected will be dedicated to the stormwater utility enterprise fund in the city budget and be dedicated to the administration, operation and maintenance costs of the stormwater drainage. 

Property owners will have to pay the fees quarterly and in advance, and if not paid the charges will become a lien against the property until paid in full. 

The city is also planning for a  stormwater income assistance program that will be applied for residents enrolled in the Energy Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability, or any other equivalent low-income program that provides payment assistance for utility bills. The income assistance would be the equivalent of one-half of the annual calculated fee of the applicable fiscal year. 
The city of Reno has a page sharing all the details about the project as well as a feedback section that residents can use to voice their opinions about the utility. If all goes according to plan, the city council will be looking at the proposal along with any comments from businesses and homeowners sometime in March.

CORRECTION: This article previously noted TMWA officials said the drought was officially over. That was not the case.

Mark Hernandez
Mark Hernandez
Mark was born in Mexico, grew up in Carson City, and has recently returned to Reno to continue to explore and get to know the city again. He got his journalism degree in 2018 and wants to continue learning photography for both business and pleasure. Languages and history are topics he likes to discuss as well as deplete any coffee reservoirs in close proximity.




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