County council OK’s BBWARM stormwater fee

Published on Thu, Jul 24, 2008 by Coral Garnick

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County council OK’s BBWARM stormwater fee

By Coral Garnick

A new stormwater management fee for property owners in the Birch Bay watershed was approved by the Whatcom County Council Tuesday despite some council members’ concerns that the fee does not have reduction or exemption options for property owners who make the effort to control storm water runoff.

The issue was discussed as two separate ordinances, one accepting the Birch Bay Watershed Aquatic Resource Management District (BBWARM) funding plan, and a related fee schedule.

Council voted 6-1 in support of the new funding plan, with council member Barbara Brenner opposing, and 6-1 in support of the $60.24 to $104.64 a year fee associated with the plan, with council member Sam Crawford opposing the plan.

A motion was also passed to have the BBWARM advisory committee reexamine the rates while taking into account the idea of consolidating neighboring properties.

The new fee will be included in the county’s 2009 annual tax statements and will be used to fund stormwater projects, such as improving the drainage on Birch Bay Drive, reconstructing the Terrell Creek culvert, inspecting and maintaining stormwater facilities, monitoring water quality, and educating people, said Kraig Olason of Whatcom County public works.

The new rates will be applied to all property owners whether residential or commercial. An analysis of the Birch Bay watershed found that the average impervious square footage for a residential parcel is 4,000 square feet, or an equivalent service unit (ESU).

Residential properties will be assessed a fee depending on the percent of impervious surface are on the property, and commercial properties will have their total amount of impervious surface area totaled and divided by 4,000 square feet to determine the number of ESUs for billing.

A residential property with a low amount of impervious surface area, between 1 and 10 percent, will be charged $60.24 a year; a property with a medium amount of impervious surfaces, between 11 and 50 percent, will be charge $75.12 a year; and a property with a high amount of impervious surfaces, more than 50 percent, will be charged $104.64 a year, according to county documents.

Senior citizens and disabled persons who are exempt from paying property taxes will be exempt from this property fee as well. Undeveloped land and state and county roads will also be exempt from the new fee. All other public property however, will be charged.

The Birch Bay steering committee has been concerned about Birch Bay’s water quality for years, and has been working since 2000 to find a way to improve it.

“We are so glad it passed,” said Kathy Berg, chair of the Birch Bay steering committee. “The council just wants to have some issues clarified, but that is why we have a citizen’s advisory committee.
“We knew the plan wasn’t perfect, but we needed to get it going and now it is,“ Berg said.

The next step for the BBWARM advisory committee is to take a look at the idea of combing neighboring properties, as well as talking with the council about getting a bridge loan to get the administration on track, said Don Montfort, chair of the BBWARM advisory committee.

“We were asked to look at the issue of contiguous property,“ Montfort said. “In my opinion that is just one of the many gaps in the rate structure, but it is the role of the committee now to make it work as best it can.”