Brookhaven residents will see their stormwater utility rates rise by $28 this year.
During a June 15 meeting, the Brookhaven City Council voted to increase the stormwater service fee rate from $66 to $94. The original resolution increased the fee to just $73.98, but the council voted to go higher.
According to Chief Financial Officer Steve Chapman, the fund has “basically been drained down to having no fund balance” due in part to a number of emergency stormwater repairs the city has undertaken.
“If you were to just raise it to the bare minimum, of course we would always try our best to create a fund balance going forward,” Chapman said. “As this system hits us with emergency fixes, it makes it more and more difficult to be able to pay for these things without having resources available to do so.”
The council voted to increase the stormwater fee by 10% at a June 9, 2020 meeting in an attempt to balance the stormwater budget, stating that the costs of maintenance outweighed the revenue collected from the fee. The council also voted to increase the fee by 3% or by the Consumer Price Index, whichever is greater, each year. Stormwater fees are paid by “equivalent residential unit,” or ERU, which is equal to a single-family residence.
Brookhaven took over stormwater maintenance from DeKalb County in 2013, and according to the resolution, a high percentage of the city’s stormwater structures were built before the 1970s.
Most recently, a $575,000 loan was appropriated from the city’s general fund for sinkhole repairs on West Nancy Creek Drive. City spokesperson Ann Marie Quill said in an email that the total amount of loans given from the city’s general fund to the stormwater fund is an estimated $1.2 million.
“Those are going to be repaid over time by the stormwater fund,” Chapman said. “However, we do need some additional revenue … to help support the fund balance because it is zero, and to keep up with inflationary numbers.”
The council unanimously approved the resolution, but not without some discussion about raising the rate from the original suggestion. Councilmember Joe Gebbia said he was in favor of the higher rate. He said a hike of this size was on the table last year, but the council ultimately decided not to because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Unfortunately, what’s transpired since then has been emergency situations that have been very expensive,” he said. “I look at this as being part of an insurance policy because when we do this and we have the fund, it’s protecting the entire city.”
Councilmember John Park agreed, saying the council needed to think long term.
“Since I’ve been on council, it seems like every two or three months we have an emergency because it was neglected so badly for so long, that now we’re paying the piper,” he said. “We just need to bite the bullet and take care of this. I am definitely in favor of whatever it takes.”
Although she ultimately voted in favor of the increase, Councilmember Linley Jones was skeptical about the higher rate, and said she was “very concerned” about any increase in fees or taxes for residents.
“The resolution that was proposed and published was to increase the stormwater fee from $66 to $73.98,” she said. “I would like to have a sturdier rationale for an increase like this, especially above and beyond the one that was published on the agenda and the one that we discussed.”
A city spokesperson said the rate will be effective on the November 2021 tax bills sent by DeKalb County. The entire conversation and City Council meeting can be watched on the city’s website or Facebook page.