New Cedar Rapids stormwater fees up for vote soon

Plan calls for phasing in the large increases, giving environmental credits

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A mobile home park in Cedar Rapids expects a nearly 600 percent increase in its stormwater fee thanks to a plan to restructure bills so properties sending more water into the storm sewer system pay more.

Kirkwood Estates, which has manufactured homes on 448 of its 488 lots, would see its annual charge climb from $3,133 to $21,059 per year, phased in over five years beginning in fiscal 2017. The city estimates 33.9 of its 77 acres are impervious — in other words, stormwater can’t be absorbed into the ground and must run off somewhere else.

“I’m more than happy to pay what our fair share is, but I don’t want my residents to pay more,” said Christina Mauseth, community property manager for Kirkwood Estates. “Nobody wants to see what happened in 2008 again.”

Mauseth attended an information session Monday for those with the most impacted properties. City officials shared the mechanics of the plan, which could go before City Council for a vote as soon as March 8.

Kirkwood Estates is one of about 75 properties that would see dramatic rate increases. Still, most property owners — about 95 percent — would see virtually no change in their bills, which average about $62 a month.

In the current system, no property no matter how big generates more than $3,133 in fees annually. Under the new structure, some could pay as much as $46,592.

The new structure calculates the fee based on the number of “equivalent residential units” on each property, as a proxy for how much impervious surface there is.

The city will use planimetric data, a type of aerial mapping, to calculate impervious surface. That would be updated every two years.

“We are getting fewer questions as time moves on,” said Public Works Director Jennifer Winter, who attended the session. “I do think the biggest concerns were better incentives and a transition plan, and we’ve responded to that.”

The plan focuses on a who’s who of local businesses, including the Lindale Mall, Rockwell Collins, Transamerica and Hy-Vee.

The initial plan called for instituting the new fee structure in one year, but an updated draft calls for it to ramp up over five years.

The city has also responded with a credit system to reduce the calculation of impervious surface by up to 75 percent.

Property owners can receive credits for educational programming worth up to 25 percent for businesses and up to 50 percent for non-profits, such as schools. A major waterway credit is worth a 10 percent reduction if a property discharges directly into the Cedar River. Properties can earn up to a 40 percent reduction by installing water infiltration devices, such as bioswales, retention ponds and permeable pavement.

“We already have a retention basin, and we do educational programming aimed at water pollution,” said Scott Groth, environmental health and safety manager for Red Star Yeast, which is expecting a noticeable rate increase. “We are looking at other infiltration options, as well.”

Mauseth and Ron Hale, who is a regional manager overseeing Kirkwood Estates, still have questions about the calculation. The units on their property don’t have foundations, so how does the city know if the water is being absorbed, they asked.

“These are right on the ground,” Hale said. “We need to see what impervious is based on, and what is included.”

Cedar Rapids has been working on the plan for months with a goal of mitigating the risk of a flood or flash flooding due. It’s part of a multipronged approach that also includes proposed changes to require more topsoil on a property after construction and plans to update infrastructure.

An early estimate pegged the backlog of stormwater infrastructure needs at $50 million, although city officials say the full scope is closer to $100 million. It is expected to take decades to complete.

“The stormwater fee is to help us get caught up on 30 years of projects that never were completed,” City Council member Scott Olson said.

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