Rain tax in works

Published:

Without much fanfare, city and county leaders recently got together to mull over the possibility of levying new taxes on local property tax owners – to provide for the removal of stormwater in a manner that does not pollute streams. No immediate decision was reached and if the system is approved, it could take 18-24 months to start collecting the tax, estimated at $4 to $7 per household monthly.

Stormwater – which runs off roofs and pavement and sometimes causes flash floods – used to be little more than an afterthought. It’s rarely a problem in the natural world, where abundant vegetation captures surplus drainage and channels it to the water table to be available for plants and animals as needed later, when there’s too little rather than too much rain.

Urban and suburban development made things much more complicated. Cities soon discovered they needed extensive networks of piping to convey water into the nearest stream rather than having it pool on the roads or flood basements. At first, it was easier to collect both stormwater and “sanitary” sewage in the same pipes and dump it all together. When cities began treating their sewage instead of just sloshing it into public waters, these combined systems, some of which can be found in the older parts of Frankfort, stank in dry weather and overflowed in wet periods, spewing bilge into the river.

Whether storm and sanitary sewers were combined or separate, some residents solved their home drainage problems by connecting downspouts to the public sewers, introducing more liquid into the system and overloading the sewage treatment plant. City Sewer Director Bill Scalf said last year his system was funded to treat 1 billion gallons of wastewater but actually had to handle 3 billion gallons. The excess can result from leaky sewer pipes as well as illegal connections. City Hall periodically threatens to crack down on the latter, but illicit plumbing may be as prevalent and unmanageable as illegal immigration.

Some of the stormwater, which collects environmental pollutants while running off impermeable surfaces, is dirty enough it could stand treatment, but the plant wasn’t designed to handle it.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set up the National Pollutant Discharge Elimiination System to oversee outfalls from municipal storm sewers, construction sites and industries, which now may be required to obtain discharge permits.

Consultant Steven McKinley warned the City Commission and Fiscal Court in their joint meeting earlier this month to brace themselves for backlash when property owners must pay up to protect waterways “from the rainfall coming from their houses.” The tax would be payable in both wet and dry weather.

Perhaps it should apply only to homes connected to storm sewer systems, mostly in the city although some county subdivisions may also have them. Larger properties should able to absorb their own runoff naturally. But high-density neighborhoods, city or county, need help with their water problems.

Subdivisions have been developed without adequate attention to storm drainage. When trouble cropped up after the land developers departed, taxpayers had to finance solutions. That’s something local planners and politicians should think about the next time a subdivider wants to develop on the cheap.

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  • Take your meds Wayne, everything's going to be OK.

  • Pretty sure a link posted to a legal document on the city website,......handled your "captain obvious" commentary.....and unlike you I don't need a helmet and the short bus to get around town.

  • Sounds like you might need a pair of pliers to unwad your panties esp since I wasn't referring to you or the issue of the FPB. Great to see how level-headed and not so self-important you are. Not. ---- The place to find information about the legal status of the FBP would pretty much be anywhere except the comments section of the SJ; you know: City Hall, the Plant Board Office, the Library. Have your mom hold your hand when you cross the street to get to any of these locations and be sure to look both ways.

  • This document released in 2007 states: http://www2.frankfort.ky.gov/dmdocuments/climatereport.pdf "The purpose of this report is to document the carbon footprint of the City of Frankfort by inventorying 2 components, the city as a whole and the combined operations of the city government and publicly-owned Frankfort Electric and Water Plant Board." So who are the "public"? where is the FPB traded? How can you buy stock? If it is in fact a municipal utility, then the "public" is US, and our tax dollars are funding it, as such the profits are to be returned to the city coffers....where is the money?

  • @ Grackle "cowards"? Exactly what would be cowardly? My comments about the Frankfort Plant Board were direct and clear,......it is a MONOPOLY that hides under the wool of a "municipal utility", when in fact it is a wolf that has stifled competition in all areas of this county for decades. Water, Electric, Phone, Cable, Broadband,.......you name it. and the excuse is always "As a municipal utility, we own the infrastructure." I will say it again, if the FPB is a municipal utility then the profits belong to the City of Frankfort and should be returned to the budget......period. If it is not, then they are as responsible for the upkeep and new construction of their infrastructure as any other private business. The only "cowardly" thing, is when some loser makes innuendo about another individual (or individuals) character,...but can't provide facts to back it up. Maybe you should keep to Topix where you are a staple of libel and slander crowd. The FPB cannot have it both ways, either it is, or it is not a municipal entity.....

  • @Marketing Director: I appreciate the words of support. Assuming that you're referring to sewer work, Anonymous_880 is correct that sewer work is handled entirely by the City and we simply contract with the FPB to take advantage of their billing service. I believe Grackle is also correct about the FPB's formation, although that was many years before my time so I obviously can't speak from experience. The Plant Board was recently audited, and the results of that audit should be a matter of public record, available upon request at the FPB offices. ------------ Sellus

  • The cowards in this comments section are a disappointment. ---------- If I recall correctly the FEWBP was created on the mandate of the State Legislature; this might explain why it is structured the way it is as opposed to being a user-owned cooperative like Shelby Energy etc. ------ I'm sure there's plenty of public information available on FBP's balance sheets etc; this assumes you take the time away from pounding out paragraphs on a newspaper comments section (result = zero) and actually walk over to the FPB office and ask them what's available for public inspection.

  • marketing_director - Are you questioning why the plant board doesn't pay for improvements to the sewer system since it's theirs? It's not their resposibility to fix because they don't own the sewer system. That is entirely the city's. The plant board just takes care of billing for the city on the sewer portion.

  • Thanks Sellus for your very well thoughtout response. Only if more local politicians would communicate with the public as you do. Good or bad, at least you are responding. We have two who are doing what they say. Now if we had more this town would be much better for it.

  • I want it made clear that I am a supporter of Sellus, and I in no way interjected any unethical or conflicts on his behalf. If you live in Frankfort there is an 80% chance one of, if not both of the members of the household work in one department or the other of the City, County, or State. The idea a City commissioner is driving budget dollars to a division for no other reason that his wife working there,....is asinine. That being said, I will return to my comments about the FPB. The FPB has been owned by the City of Frankfort since the 1940's and it has maintained that "line" through any and all discussions, queries, and demands when it has come for more competition, better service, and more options. The FPB may in fact be run by a BOD to manage the system for the CIty, but it still belongs to the CIty, and of it does not.....then it cannot be considered a municipal utility and as such the monopoly it holds should be broken up. If the profits from this utility are not being returned to the city budget, then it is by definition NOT a municipal utility but a private business. Which begs the new questions, if the city does not get the profits,.....who does? Who is making the money off the FPB while their employees are paid government guaranteed wages, and collect tax funded retirement benefits. If the FPB isn't owned by the city "in that way",......then why are our taxes going up to cover the cost of their improvements? If the system was owned by a private company like Kentucky American, you as a consumer would have a choice, use their service, or not use their service, and they have the obligation to upgrade their product out of their own pockets and then submit a dollar figure to the PSC to raise the rates they charge their customers "slightly" to recoup the loses in a timely fashion. That is the cost of doing business. But with a municipal utility you have no voice when they want to add their improvements to your tax bill. But if the City of Frankfort does not own the FPB, then I have a serious problem with my taxes being used to fund their improvements. I also would live an audit of the FPB books to know exactly where our money is going, who is getting it, and what the balance sheet looks like.

  • Sellus, as always, thanks for taking time to explain your actions and intentions. Don't let them wear you down.

  • Thanks bunches Steve.-------------Nice resume' Sellus.

  • @ Reasonable1: I'm not going to waste tax dollars to ask the city to investigate myself when there's zero evidence (or possibility) of wrongdoing. It doesn’t matter what I do or what steps I take to humor you. You’re going to accuse me of ‘cutting backroom deals’ and ‘conflicts of interest,’ etc. every time I turn around regardless of the facts. Whenever one of these accusations is disproved, a new one is fabricated, and you can’t ever be held accountable for making this stuff up. If you want to step out of the shadows and produce false charges against my family, then I’ll readily prove you wrong in the proper forum (whether it be in front of the ethics board or in court). That obviously won’t happen because you know full well that there’s no evidence that this would benefit my wife, or that she receives any kind of special treatment. Again, your local governments are being forced by the courts to increase this funding, and it would be illegal for us to not comply. I don’t know why that’s hard to understand, and I don't see how you can believe I'm engineering this whole thing when I obviously don't have any control over the courts or state and federal government. Regardless, I’m not going to abandon my legal responsibilities and risk incurring massive fines for the City just to humor paranoid conspiracy theories and political witch-hunts. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- @ Steve_Fry: Thanks! Some paragraph breaks would be great. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- @ Jed: You raise a number of good questions. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We’re already legally obligated to do particular types of work, including massive capital projects on our sewer/stormwater systems, and we don’t have much flexibility in that regard. Many of your suggestions are certainly pieces of the puzzle, but they don’t solve the entire problem. Permeable blacktop is unfortunately only suitable for parking lots and other low-traffic pavement. It’s sometimes applied on top of normal blacktop on highways to reduce hydroplaning, but that obviously doesn’t deal with drainage problems. Ripping up all of our current parking lots and replacing them would still take a lot of time and money, and wouldn’t satisfy the terms of our consent judgment. Most of our tax-exempt pavement is owned by the state, and there are severe limits to what we can require from them, although we at least can require them to pay their utility bills. We can’t legally dictate their construction materials and methods, although a utility would give the state an incentive to incorporate best practices into new development (most cities with stormwater utilities don’t apply the fee to permeable pavement, so an incentive to install permeable pavement, green roofs, etc. in new development and when otherwise practical is built into the utility). Green roofs are great when possible, but many existing structures can’t support them without expensive retrofits and they’re therefore more relevant to new development. In other words, it’s going to take an ‘all of the above’ approach to solve this problem (a stormwater system, retention basins, incentives for permeable pavement and green roofs when possible, etc.). -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The sewer department has been treating two gallons of stormwater for every gallon of wastewater for many, many years. That doesn’t mean that the current sewer fees don’t cover the full cost of operations. One of the reasons that our sewer fees are so high is because they have to be inflated to cover the cost of treating all this stormwater. In other words, your bill may only reflect 2000 gallons of wastewater, but the equivalent fee actually covers 6000 gallons of treatment. I would love to see our sewer fees reduced when all of these problems finally get fixed, but that will be up to a future Commission quite a few years from now. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Land in the City and County is essentially divided into ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ areas. The entire City is considered urban, and most of the County is rural. There are some urbanized areas of the County however (defined by their population density). Although there is occasional creek-related flooding in the County, the stormwater problems we’re trying to address mostly apply to the urbanized and heavily paved areas. There is some impact from the rural areas, but that impact may prove to be negligible. Again, that’s for the County to determine instead of the City Commission. I’m just trying to share information as best I can. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- A proper stormwater system would indeed have to treat the ‘first flush’ after a rain to deal with the oil products you’re describing. Everything that washes off afterwards is pretty clean, however, and can be diverted straight to the river without treatment (saving a lot of money in the process). -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sellus

  • I am offering a generic suggestion for any politician. Politicains: If you are voting on something that will bring in funding to a certain department and the funding will be benefitting only that department, and that small department is where your close relative is employed, the only honorable thing to do would be to submit the potential Conflict of Interest situation to the Ethics Board for their professional judgement as to whether it is appropriate for the politician to continue his current activities and shovel a whole bunch of money to his relatives department. It would also be prudent for the politician (or city lawyer) to ask the opinion of each and every employee in that department how they feel about working with this relative should the relative receive favoritism in the past or in the next 18-24 months and later when all the money starts rolling in from the hoodwinked property owners. Also if the Powers that Be in Frankfort decide to place the Ethics Board information on the City of Frankfort web site, will they color it green like all the other stuff they would like to take over and control, or is the Ethics Board not included in their plans for the City of Frankfort? I am entering lines below for tantrums and name calling from politicians to be written. Please use green ink if you're one of "them". ______________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  • (@ Need, Sellus and others -- I've emailed my contacts with the Home Office for Web Developin' Thingies about the 'returns' being stripped from posts, including a link to this page. We'll try to get things squared away.)

  • Sellus, I have a suggestion. Since the vast majority of buildings, parking lots, and streets are government owned, require the roads to be redone with permeable blacktop. This would be a one time expense, not an ongoing tax. For flatroofs, make them green, plant grass on them. --- what I don't understand is the 3 billion Gallon vs 1 billion gallon statement. I've never read or seen comments about the Sewer Dept having triple operating costs this past year. Any government entity that tripled its work would have to seek additional budget funds I would think? -- as for the County, we have much less blacktop and concrete than the city. We have much more land to soak up water and many many more creeks to divert runoff from hard storms to the river and not contributing to city water issues. --- you aso have o figure out what to do with the oil products (Sheen) that floats on the water from your parking lots. Surely you will treat that before it enters the river. Otherwise someone downstream will be drinking oily water.

  • @ Reasonable1: Are you seriously suggesting that we could save our constituents money by refusing to comply with the law and getting fined millions of dollars a year? Where do you think that money would come from? ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ This court order predates both my and my wife’s involvement with the City, and if this passes it will not have any effect on either of our positions or incomes. There is no way that we could personally benefit from this. If I were actually trying to pull off something as blatantly unethical as Reasonable1 is inferring, then real people would be charging me with real crimes instead of relying on unaccountable anonymous sniping. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ @ Need4Speed: I do agree with you that the rural areas of the County don’t have the same stormwater concerns as the urbanized areas. That’s something County officials need to sort out, however, and I don’t have anything to do with setting County policy. I don’t know why some of you guys assume that I have these godfather-esque powers over federal, state, and local governments. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ I do independent contracting in both construction and video production. I just spent the weekend repairing heavy damage from the recent storms, and I recently contracted to shoot a music video. I don’t see what my work has to do with anything, and these efforts to keep dragging my personal life into policy discussions is pretty cheap and pointless. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ @ A_688: I’m very open to alternative suggestions. We’ve been looking at this issue for years, and have even hired outside consultants to examine all the possibilities, and everything we’ve seen so far makes it pretty clear that a stormwater utility would save our constituents a lot of money compared to every other option. It’s not pretty, but no one has even come close to making a better case. The deeper catch is that the clock is ticking, and some of these projects will become more expensive the longer we wait (because we’re already tearing up streets to do mandated sewer work, and it would be much more efficient to do the stormwater work at the same time instead of waiting a year or two and tearing the same street up all over again). ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Sellus

  • @ Reasonable1: Are you seriously suggesting that we could save our constituents money by refusing to comply with the law and getting fined millions of dollars a year? Where do you think that money would come from? ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ This court order predates both my and my wife’s involvement with the City, and if this passes it will not have any effect on either of our positions or incomes. There is no way that we could personally benefit from this. If I were actually trying to pull off something as blatantly unethical as Reasonable1 is inferring, then real people would be charging me with real crimes instead of relying on unaccountable anonymous sniping. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ @ Need4Speed: I do agree with you that the rural areas of the County don’t have the same stormwater concerns as the urbanized areas. That’s something County officials need to sort out, however, and I don’t have anything to do with setting County policy. I don’t know why some of you guys assume that I have these godfather-esque powers over federal, state, and local governments. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ I do independent contracting in both construction and video production. I just spent the weekend repairing heavy damage from the recent storms, and I recently contracted to shoot a music video. I don’t see what my work has to do with anything, and these efforts to keep dragging my personal life into policy discussions is pretty cheap and pointless. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ @ A_688: I’m very open to alternative suggestions. We’ve been looking at this issue for years, and have even hired outside consultants to examine all the possibilities, and everything we’ve seen so far makes it pretty clear that a stormwater utility would save our constituents a lot of money compared to every other option. It’s not pretty, but no one has even come close to making a better case. The deeper catch is that the clock is ticking, and some of these projects will become more expensive the longer we wait (because we’re already tearing up streets to do mandated sewer work, and it would be much more efficient to do the stormwater work at the same time instead of waiting a year or two and tearing the same street up all over again). ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Sellus

  • I do not want to believe that Market Director and Reasonable (sic) write their posts out of sheer malice, but they write these things because they do comprehend the facts behind these issues. – - - – – - - – Mixing storm water with sewer waste water overwhelms the sewer plant when there are brief but intense rains such as we have seen in the past few weeks. Even if the citizens of Franklin County would not mind human feces and other sewage floating in the Kentucky River, it is unlikely that citizens downstream would be willing to have our waste pass through their communities. – - - – – - - – As a result, it is going to be necessary to alter the system, and the best long term solution is to separate storm water from waste water, and doing that will cost money. It is very easy to attack in the newspaper those who are trying to address the problem, because the writers take no responsibility for creating a solution. There would be very few comments if the posters also had to suggest a “reasonable” solution when they attack the ideas proposed by our elected leaders.

  • I live in a part of the county that has no storm water issues. We have the Elkhorn creek and various and sundry dry runs. There is very little development here and no subdivisions. Yet we are getting pounded by regulations and laws designed for subdivisions and developments. This is starting to look like merger by fiat. Leave those of us in the county alone Sellus. By the way, do you have a real job or do you just stir up crap for the rest of us?------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- PS I do agree that the paragraph break problem needs to be addressed. What about it Mr. Fry?

  • Politician, Are you denying your family members are involved in the stormwater initiaitve? I guess their department will be getting a lot of business from the additional taxes. http://www.state-journal.com/local%20news/2008/09/18/city-begins-notifying-of-illegal-sewer-channels.modal http://www.state-journal.com/local%20news/2008/02/15/homeowners-responsible-for-overflow.modal First he brings in TRASH POLICE AND TAXES now RAINWATER POLICE AND TAXES. When does this micro-management of the public's private property stop? Just because the federal government decides something does not make it THE RIGHT THING TO DO. Punishing (taxing) everyone for a few storm drain leaks is WRONG. You know what they say about politicians when their mouths are moving.....

  • We're being forced to do this work, plain and simple. Our current sewer and stormwater practices violate federal law, and we're being forced by the courts to undergo these expensive projects. We've been openly advised that If we refuse to comply then the courts could fine us up to $1.5 million dollars whenever it rains heavily and even put City and County officials in jail. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I expect some folks are going to agree with Marketing Director and Reasonable1 that we shouldn't do this work despite the court order, but that would be both illegal and incredibly fiscally irresponsible considering the massive fines for non-compliance. The only question is how we pay for it. Stormwater work is currently covered with tax dollars. As controversial as it may be, a stormwater utility would save local taxpayers millions of dollars by requiring tax-exempt entities (like state government) to pick up their fair share of the bill instead of sticking us with the entire tab. We've spent months examining other alternatives, and they would all cost local taxpayers much more than this proposed utility. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Marketing Director's suggestion that we add the Plant Board's 'profits' to our budget would also be illegal. The City doesn't own the FPB in the manner that Marketing Director imagines, and the law requires our financial reporting to be accurate. The only way we can legally require funds from the Plant Board to help cover stormwater costs is to establish a stormwater utility. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Reasonable1's thinly-veiled inference that a stormwater utility somehow benefits myself or my family is just paranoid and silly. I can accept the fact that some anonymous commenters on the internet make stuff up about me. I'm a public figure and it's no secret that I've upset the type of folks who like to sling mud from the shadows. If those of you who are making this stuff up have any decency or dignity at all, however, you'll limit your fabrications to myself, and leave my wife out of it. My family has gone through a lot over the past couple of years, and they've never done anything to warrant this stuff. Please try to have a heart. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sellus Wilder -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Please forgive the odd format of this post. This new site doesn't allow paragraph breaks for some reason, and it didn't make sense to post everything above in a single paragraph. These dashes are the only way I can find to overcome the problem.

  • How can you say that this tax will not help the economy? The money does not just sit there. It funds construction work, which provides JOBS. Those jobs in turn provide more taxes, which provide more jobs. This is simple economics that seems to be over some people's heads. The fact that the result will be cleaner water is also a benefit.

  • This is a huge increase in taxes that certain politicians (who have conflict of interests) want to RUSH through because after November election things are sure to change. I hope he has the decency to recuse himself from voting on this(and refrain from working feverishly on storm water drainage under the table) since his family will directly profit from this project. Don't let his and wife's cute little name swap fool you! A lot of the storm water problems have been fixed in recent years. It looks to me like an invented problem to line somebody's pockets. The only people pushing things like this are the ones profiting from it. It is time for Frankfort to put the brakes on these outside interests preying on the public.

  • And another thing..... If the profits from the FEWPB were deposited into the city coffers (as they should be),......this city would be financially solvent. The City of Frankfort OWNS the Plant Board, but the profits from the plant board are not listed in the city budget.....why is that?

  • So the "trash tax" has actually NOT developed any surplus, nor will it..... and even though we already pay for water and sewer TWICE......you want to add MORE taxes to that. Exactly when are you Obamanites going to understand you cannot tax your way out of a deficit? Every dollar you take from us, is one dollar less we have to put back into the economy. STOP SPENDING MONEY YOU DO NOT HAVE. I for one will not pay it, and I will vote against anyone who advocates for it.

  • Don't blame the cartoonist for the inane subject matter, she was just following orders from the editors. Wastewater is a serious problem and separating sewage from stormwater is as essential as it is overdue. This task should be primarily financed by the whole city or city/county just like any capital construction project that serves the area, as the expense will be great. When we build a new road, we don't just charge those who will be residing on that road for the cost of construction, do we? This is no different. It is our mess and we should be the ones to clean it up, just like our Momma's taught us. I am sure that we will be leaning on the federal government heavily for grants and aid in this project, as usual. Kentucky residents get back $1.50 for every $1 that we send to Washington, in spite of all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth when it comes to paying federal taxes.

  • Another moronic and badly drawn cartoon by the SJ's so called cartoonist. Waste water is a serious problem, but instead of saluting local governments for trying to work together on a common problem, Ms. Boileau attempts in her inept fashion to draw something criticizing their efforts. Just leave the cartoon space blank. That would be an improvement.