Not staying afloat: Stormwater program is underfunded Stillwater City Council learns

Inadequate stormwater drainage leads to flooded streets during heavy rains, like this area of 12th Avenue near the Stillwater Public Library. 

The Stillwater City Council learned a hard truth Monday: Storm water fees, which weren’t adopted until 1997 and haven’t been adjusted since, don’t come close to covering the cost to maintain the city’s stormwater system. In fact, the City of Stillwater is collecting and spending about one-third of the estimated $839,000 it costs just to maintain current infrastructure.

And that doesn’t include any improvements or capital expenditures, Engineering Manager Monty Karns told the councilors.

“Is that why the streets are full of water every time it rains?” Mayor Will Joyce said.

The stormwater program is funded by a flat fee of $1 per month for residential structures and a commercial fee that ranges from $5-$55, depending on the properties' square footage of impervious surface. Impervious surfaces include hard coverings that create run-off like roofs and pavement or concrete.

A comparison with other cities showed Stillwater’s stormwater fees are significantly lower, especially for residential properties, Anna Childers and Tommy McClung of Jacobs Engineering explained.

Enid charges $4.93 per month for residential and $24.67 minimum for commercial. Galveston, Texas, charges $7 per month for residential properties.

Most of the Oklahoma cities reviewed charge in the $3-$5 range.

“Clearly, we’re not collecting or spending enough to keep an infrastructure in place that would perform the way we expect it to,” Joyce said.

The study is intended to help determine what it costs to fully fund the city’s current stormwater program and what it would take to be able to make improvements.

Fee adjustments could be incremental to start better funding programs without creating a hardship for residents.

The study examined different categories of properties from a sample used in a 2012 study, and found that 66% of the properties are classified as residential, but the non-residential properties have an outsized impact on the stormwater system.

Only 24% of the properties are non-residential, but those same properties represent more than 50% of the impervious surface that creates run-off.

Oklahoma State University represents just 6% of the properties but 27.8% of the impervious surface.

The university doesn’t pay stormwater fees, but also maintains its own infrastructure.

Stormwater Program Manager Zach Henson told the Council asking the university to pay might backfire it it results in an expectation that the city take over maintenance of stormwater infrastructure on the campus.

“It’s a give and take,” Henson said.

The councilors agreed that the report gives them a lot to think about but did not adopt any changes to the current rate structure.


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