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Stormwater utility is coming. Is it too much? (opinion)

Date:

Submitted by Dave Aiazzi

To begin, let me say that I am in favor of the Stormwater Utility the City of Reno is working to establish. 

However, I do have some questions about the fee amount that staff is recommending to the Reno City Council. I have sent these same comments to the Council and, as yet, have had no replies.

The City of Reno is starting a Stormwater Utility from scratch. In trying to decide how to fund this utility they hired Raftelis in 2019 to look at how this would look and be funded. The latest proposal would have this new fee start in July of this year.

I have read the staff reports and watched the videos that are available regarding this issue and it brought up some questions that I feel the council has to have answers to prior to raising this $25 million fee (not a tax!).

In March of 2019 Raftelis initially proposed a fee ranging from $3.50 to $8.50 with a “proportional” amount of the sewer fee being reduced. The Feasibility Study came out on June 23 of that year and recommended a fee between $8 and $10 stating the city needs $6.4 million per year. They also recommended a $3.50 reduction in the sewer fees resulting in a net increase of $4.50 to $6.50 per month per ERU (Equivalent Residential Unit).

On the Aug. 26, 2020 agenda, during approval of a Raftelis contract, it was “finalized” that the fee would be $8.50 per month per ERU and a sewer fee reduction of $3.50 for a total monthly charge of $5.00 per month per ERU. (I keep using this term to emphasize a comment I will make later). It also reiterated that only “$6.4 million per year is needed in both the short term and over the next five to seven years to accomplish regular operation and maintenance, improvements to the stormwater system.”

At the public outreach meetings, first held on Aug. 9, 2021 and last on March 8, 2022, the same recommendations were presented.

All is clear until the Dec. 14, 2022 city council meeting. At that meeting the proposed increase jumped to $13.46 with NO mention of a sewer fee reduction – a 169% increase in the fee over what the public was told over the past year.

I know that they added some for inflation, but I feel that the larger part is because they are including all of the flood mitigation in the downtown section, bridges, pumping stations, etc. The study states that the “City Storm Drainage needs at $159 million” and “Truckee River Flood Management: elements and mitigation at $127 million.” 

That brings up my biggest question. The citizens of Reno already pay 1/8¢ for flood control that was intended to pay for this. (Let’s set aside that the voters voted down an increase in taxes in 2018 to further fund flood control). The flood control says they still have these projects listed as items they are responsible for funding. I am baffled as to why these are being included in this new fee.

I am not sure why the bridges are even listed as “flood control” projects when they are clearly Regional Transportation Commission  projects. The “bridges” portion should be taken out of this recommendation at the very least.

Another part that got my attention was the dramatic increase in what is needed “in both the short term and over the next five to seven years.”

In 2020, it was $6.4 million per year. While not in the staff report in December, the proposed fee, based on my calculations, would raise $25 million per year. I understand inflation, but a 390% increase? That seems high, unless I add $127 million worth of flood control projects as I discussed above.

A few smaller but important factors:

• It would seem that the city is currently paying out of the general fund $4 million per year toward stormwater mitigation now. It was not mentioned that this money could offset the increases. This is a way for the city to also generate $4 million per year into the general fund. Either is fine, it should be disclosed. 

• Raftelis gave FOUR scenarios with different rate ranges. I may have missed it but I never saw where council voted on which scenario would move forward. Raftelis recommended a three year “ramp up” to the higher fee. I only saw one scenario presented last December.

• In their 2019 Feasibility Study they discussed adding snow removal and street sweeping into the stormwater fund. They didn’t recommend it but they stated that other jurisdictions have used this scenario. That might be a wise thing to do but it is not mentioned if the City of Reno is planning to do this.

• I said I would get back to the ERUs. I obviously haven’t looked at every house, but I saw that many are classified as 1.7 ERU. I didn’t see any other classifications. It would be nice to have a list of how many homes are in what ERU range. Don’t assume that every home is only at 1 ERU please.

Without answers to these questions, I feel that the City should consider implementing the original recommended rate of $8.50 per month per ERU and a $3.50 rate reduction on the Sewer Fee with a three year “ramp up.” That would still generate about $17 million per year and generate $4 million per year to the general fund. If, in the coming years, that is deemed insufficient, these rates can be increased. Per the recommended ordinance, inflation is already built into the future fees.

You can see what the “ERU” rate is for your house at the Reno Stormwater Parcel Viewer. I see many single-family homes listed at a 1.7 ERU. If this is true for you, expect to pay 70% more than what I have discussed here.

Dave Aiazzi is a former Reno City Council member and former Washoe County School District trustee and has served on numerous boards including Truckee Meadows Water Authority, Regional Transportation Commission and Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Governing Board. He is currently the chairman of the Reno Housing Authority.

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