Somebody has to pay for improvements to Manatee’s stormwater system. It could be you

The groundwork was set for a potential stormwater fee by the Board of County Commissioners in 1991, but the charge was never implemented.

Dealing with colossal storms and record rainfall have led today’s board to reconsider and after nearly 30 years, that charge might be right around the corner.

County staff briefed board members during a work session on Tuesday about the basics of stormwater and what the county’s responsibilities are in terms of water drainage and maintenance. It’s a bigger task than it seems, they said.

“Florida has a wonderful thing. We get 56 inches of rain a year,” said Commissioner Priscilla Trace. “Florida has a terrible thing. We get 56 inches of rain a year. You can look at it both ways.”

The county oversees more than 1,300 miles of various runoff systems, 750 acres of stormwater ponds and nearly 15,000 street drainage inlets. It’s plenty to keep his department busy, said Public Works Director Chad Butzow.

The board has been toying with the idea of instituting a stormwater fee for some time. Over the next few months, they’ll hear from staff about what that fee might go toward, what the collection method might be and who would be responsible to pay it.

In the past, efforts to implement the fee into the local government’s system haven’t been successful, even though they were much-needed. Commissioner Vanessa Baugh recalled that Butzow’s predecessor, Ron Schulhofer, would routinely ask the board for a bigger staff and more funding every year.

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The funding would go toward improving Manatee’s maintenance of stormwater drainage routes, which includes inspecting ponds, clearing canals and repairing pipes.

“Everybody looked at it as a tax. It was brought up after hurricanes like Andrew and there were a few attempted and each time it failed,” said Sia Mollanzar, deputy director of public works. “We hope this time it moves forward with implementation.”

The last request came in 2000, many years before any current commissioners sat on the board, but the need is growing and Commissioners Carol Whitmore and Betsy Benac suggested they would be willing to finally implement it.

“We are not alone in this issue, but we are late to the game in implementing a stormwater fee,” Benac said.

Whitmore said the introduction of new revenue would help alleviate the strain on a public works department that has been stretched thin in recent years.

“This is something that would help with staffing and maintain the things you just talked about without hurting the general budget,” Whitmore said.

The addition of a stormwater fee would open up an exciting opportunity to become eligible for even more funding from the state, according to Charlie Hunsicker, director of natural parks and resources. He explained that the state of Florida became reluctant to provide stormwater grants to local government that did not already have a form of stormwater funding that didn’t rely solely on property taxes.

With the fee in place, Hunsicker said, the state would be willing to provide dollar for dollar funding of local projects.

Future stormwater discussions are set to take place Jan. 22, Feb. 19 and March 19 before the board takes any action on the matter.

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