Does the county’s stormwater system need upgrading and stepped-up maintenance? And if so, what is the best way of paying for it?
“Stormwater” is just what it sounds like — the water resulting from precipitation that “runs off,” rather than seeping into the soil. The stormwater system is designed to collect the runoff in ways that minimize flooding.
A draft proposal of the county’s strategic plan to be voted on by the Board of Commissioners this summer calls for the county to impose a stormwater utility fee — probably in the range of several dollars a month — on all property owners to pay for such projects.
“We’re not able to keep up with stormwater in the county,” Commission Chairman Tim Lee told the Marietta Daily Journal last week.
Stormwater projects and maintenance are funded via water-bill fees, not taxes. Revenues from the proposed utility fee would be dedicated for the stormwater system, not spent on the county’s water or sewer lines.
The county isn’t trying to play “catch-up” with growth as it is to replace and upgrade the aging infrastructure put in place during the county’s huge growth boom of 30 years ago.
“We had so much growth in the late ’70s and in the ’80s, and a lot of those pipes are getting old and are getting close to the end of their useful life,” said Cobb Water System Director Steve McCullers. “So we’d like to be able to put some money into the system to catch the ones that are failing and to catch some others before they are failing.”
Lee is not breaking new ground with his attempt to impose what critics are already calling a “rain tax.” Then-Chairman Sam Olens tried to talk the commission into a similar stormwater fee in 2003 and 2006, but without success.
As Lee was roughly reminded via last summer’s attempt to impose a 1 percent sales tax for regional transportation improvements (the “TSPLOST”), new taxes and new fees are a tough, tough “sale” in Cobb. Even the county and school system SPLOSTs that have passed have tended to do so by only a handful of votes.
No one wants to see Cobb County let its stormwater and related infrastructure deteriorate the way the City of Atlanta’s have. But if Lee wants to finally see the “rain tax” enacted, he needs to start laying the groundwork for it and educating the public on its necessity. Otherwise, despite the best of intentions, he likely will be told by the public that he’s, pardon the pun, “all wet.”