More stormwater work needed

Johnson City Press • Dec 11, 2019 at 11:27 AM

Last year, it was raising Johnson City’s garbage fee. This year, Public Works Director Phil Pindzola is back before the City Commission asking for another increase, this time on the stormwater fee.

Johnson City initiated the stormwater fee instead of a tax increase in 2007 to fund stormwater projects.

Nobody likes paying extra fees, but few would argue with the results in this case. A city once plagued by frequent flash flooding because of inadequate stormwater capacity has been transformed. Downtown’s revitalization has in no small part resulted from projects funded by the fee.

As Staff Writer David Floyd reported, Pindzola wants commissioners to add $1 to the existing monthly fee, which varies depending on the size of a home or property. The “average” home — about 3,315 square feet — is assessed at $3.

Why does the city need more cash in the stormwater fund? City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners a $1 increase would support about $10 million worth of debt service over 20 years. That would fund drainage improvement along West Walnut Street with estimated costs at $3 million to $6 million, as well as about $2 million to prevent Cobb Creek from flooding Oakland Avenue and about $1 million to handle flooding along Knob Creek Road.

All of the above are sorely needed. In particular, Cobb Creek flooding has plagued residents in northeast Johnson City for decades. Better drainage in the West Walnut area would mitigate flash floods on neighboring State of Franklin Road, the city’s busiest artery. And as the city sets out to improve the West Walnut corridor, the project would make development easier.

In general, we are not a fan of fees. They amount to what one might call fine-print taxes disproportionately applied to a citizen’s ability to pay. Both the garbage and stormwater fees are tacked onto your monthly water bill rather than being based on the value of your property or what you spend or consume. Such fees are much easier than taxes to get past popularity-minded politicians.

In this case, though, Johnson City has proven the value of the stormwater program. Given the unlikely prospect of a property tax hike, the $1 increase is a reasonable request. But as fees mount on water bills, the city should review its tax structure to adequately fund infrastructure down the road without fine print.

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