Cedar Rapids stormwater fee change strikes a good balance

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There still are, no doubt, some property owners who oppose new, higher stormwater fees approved 9-0 on their first reading this week by the Cedar Rapids City Council. But it’s tough to argue that city officials have not made multiple, major concessions to reduce the sting for large property owners who will be hardest hit by the change.

The city is switching from a system of flat fees to one that will assess fees based on the amount of impermeable surfaces, pavement, roofs, etc., present on a property. The new fees will better reflect the cost these properties inflict in the city’s storm sewer system, which faces a $75 million to $100 million list of backlogged repairs and upgrades.

But for large industrial and retail properties, and for some nonprofit entities, including schools, the new structure will mean a large boost in stormwater fees, in some cases by tens of thousands of dollars annually. Residential fees will remain about the same.

The city has agreed to phase in the new fees over six years, softening the blow.

But the best and most beneficial aspect of the new structure is that it opens the door to a series of incentives that will cut stormwater bills for property owners who take steps to reduce runoff. The more permeable surfaces they replace with permeable ones, the more infiltration practices they embrace, the less they’ll pay. Incentives also are available to properties, particularly to nonprofits, that institute stormwater education programs and partner with local conservation organizations on efforts to reduce runoff.

The city also is expanding a cost share program that will make $250,000 available annually to provide up to a 50 percent match toward the cost of a property owner’s runoff reduction projects.

“What we’re doing now will have a large impact on the community,” council member Ann Poe said during Tuesday’s discussion.

We’re hopeful Poe is right. Between the flood of 2008 and severe flash flooding that hit city neighborhoods two years ago, the importance of reducing runoff and improving the stormwater system couldn’t be any clearer. The implications for improving water quality and flood mitigation, as well as protecting public health and safety, are large.

We hope the fee change sparks a wave of efforts by property owners to curtail the amount of water rushing from their property. It’s the responsible thing to do. And now, thanks to the city’s new policy, responsibility makes financial sense.

• Gazette editorials reflect the consensus opinion of The Gazette Editorial Board. Share your comments and ideas with us: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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