Taxing the Rain: Speaker Richardson Needs to Pay Attention to This

I had the most profoundly offensive meeting of city government tonight in my 1.5 years on City Council.

Our Macon Water Authority asked us to consider a “Storm Water Utility,” which would — in essence — tax every property owner in the county for the rain. Or, put another way, tax every homeowner based on an estimate of the impervious surfaces on each piece of property that rain water can flow off of into the storm water system.

Let’s concede that cities and counties need to pay for their storm water systems.

Here is the kicker: the bureaucrats who pushed this proposal tonight said to refer to it as a “user fee” and not a tax.

(1) If you own property you must pay it.

(2) If it does not rain for six months, the amount you pay does not change.

(3) The payment goes toward upkeep of storm water systems and drains.

(4) The only way to avoid paying it if you own property is to get rid of every impervious surface, i.e. your sidewalk, driveway, and house.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a tax on your property. Add to this that some zoning mandates a minimum size development. There should at least be an exemption on the impervious surfaces required to meet that minimum level, but I doubt many governments do that.

And they refused to concede the point. They said the Georgia Supreme Court agrees with them.

The kicker was the government bureaucrat urging us to tax the rain wants us to do it in a hurry before local businesses and churches pay attention to the issue.

The bureaucrats told us that 30 municipalities in Georgia have a rain tax . . . er . . . storm water user fee.

I do not deny that these systems need to be paid for. But how on earth can we trust government bureaucrats to deal honestly with the issue when they refuse to call it what it is and want you to rush it through before anyone finds out?

Speaker Richardson wants some honest tax reforms in the state. He could start by making sure these taxes are treated as taxes. At least if it were honestly treated, a taxpayer could deduct the cost of this property tax in their federal income taxes.

29 comments

  1. Bill Simon says:

    Aren’t taxes usually considered as “revenue to the general fund” and “user fees” designated for a specific purpose (like, say, storm water run-off management).

    Because…by your statement, the water bill I pay the county is really a “tax” of sorts for the water supply and sewage management of the system.

    Like the “impervious surface” computation, I get a bill for my quantity of water used.

  2. Doug Deal says:

    You can disconnect your water and have it shipped in and use a ceptic system for sewage. Even if you do that, you are still charged this fee. Sounds like a tax to me.

  3. sidburgess says:

    @ Doug… who says you have to build impervious surfaces on your property? 😉 j/k of course

  4. AKA Progressive Dem says:

    I guess the tooth fairy should pay for the pipes that carry water from your property?

  5. Doug Deal says:

    Probably Dim

    Yeah, that’s exactly what he said. Try re-reading what everyone has posted and explain to us how what you just posted meshes, even remotely, with anything posted by another user on this thread.

  6. Hey, if a ‘storm water fee’ is good for Republican Gwinnett then it’s good for everyone. Suck it up Macon. Taxes are patriotic – more taxes are more patriotic.

  7. Howard Roark says:

    Gravity and slope carries water from my property, straight to a creek on my dads property. Where does it end up? In the largest water basin in the world, the Atlantic Ocean.

    A tax like this will never be imposed on me by my local city officials or county commissioners.

  8. DonnaC says:

    Erick, why are you surprised?

    Macon is just trying to jump in line, ahead of the feds, with their Clean Water Restoration Act. What it actually does is give the federal government total jurisdiction over all water, navigable AND non-navigable, in the U.S. That means all lakes, ponds, creeks, even puddles and the water that comes off your roof during a rain! No kidding–water on private property! The wetlands thing has been bad enough, but if this passes, it will be even worse. For those of us who live north of Atlanta and know what a nightmare it’s been dealing with the U.S. Corps of Engineers regarding the lakes, we can only say, “Beware!”

  9. Kellie says:

    Do we have a “Water Czar” yet? or a “Rain Czar”?
    I bet there will be one. After all, Obama promised Florida our lake water when he was campaigning.

    What if you have a retention pond to catch any run off?

  10. Dash Riptide says:

    What if you have a retention pond to catch any run off?

    Good point. We need to tax the imputed income of the owners of these retention ponds.

    Dash Riparian

  11. eehrhart says:

    Erick,

    Take a look at HB 316 which died on the house floor with only minutes to go last session. We are aware of this new tax effort and it is very much a problem. Many state departments are going to have huge budget shortfalls in the millions to just pay for the local taxes (fees) being implemented by these jurisdictions on state properties. You just gotta love one government taxing another.
    It is very much a stealth tax and they so badly do not even want it discussed in public as it is very indefensible.

  12. Erick says:

    Earl, thanks for noting that. I’ll see if I can demand a push this coming session.

    It is ridiculous. We probably ought to have a law in Georgia that a tax is any fee charged by the government that cannot be altered through the conduct of the payor except through loss or destruction of property.

  13. bryce says:

    I thought the earth had been healed already. Oh well.

    Where will the these fees go…general fund or designated funds? We are learning that the highway fund for roads is now a piggy bank to be raided by other forms of transportation but funded by drivers. If they get their way we will have mass transit subsidized by automobiles. Should people actually stop driving and start riding, the funding for mass transit will evaporate. Clever.

    It’s a tax. Why would someone argue so loudly that it is not?

    You can always trust the government…to spend your money poorly and to demand more of it.

  14. Dash Riptide says:

    It’s a tax. Why would someone argue so loudly that it is not?

    Because new taxes/tax increases are inherently bad, and user fees are inherently fair.

  15. AKA Progressive Dem says:

    OK Mr. Representative, Why shouldn’t property owners who contribute more runoff be charged more than those who create less? Do you believe the local government should provide free water and sewer, free garbage collection to State facilties?

  16. Dash Riptide says:

    “Let’s concede that cities and counties need to pay for their storm water systems.”

    Moving on…

  17. DonnaC says:

    As far as the feds are concerned, it all comes under the Commerce Clause, because rainclouds may cross state lines, making that interstate commerce!

  18. Will Hinton says:

    Erick,

    I don’t get your concern with this at all. Unless I am misunderstanding this, it sounds like this proposal is a way to make sure that those who put the most strain on the stormwater drainage system are the ones who are paying for it. That sounds profoundly conservative to me and very fair. Shouldn’t a strip mall owner with a massive parking lot that creates tremendous water runoff pay more that a residential owner with limited impervious surface that doesn’t “tax” the system? How is this any different than toll roads, which conservatives tend to support? Don’t we prefer the users of a particular service to pay for it rather than make everyone pay? Or are all taxes inherently evil no matter how they are structured? I’m rarely ever a fan of raising any taxes but this makes complete sense.

  19. Joshua Morris says:

    Stormwater systems should be a general fund item for the municipality, possibly bolstered by impact fee collections.

    The largest impervious areas creating runoff in any developed community are its roads. I guess, if taxed fairly, we would all (property owners or not) have to pay for this runoff, since roads are public property. Who builds the stormwater collection system when a road is built, anyway? I would imagine that this is typically a joint venture of the DOT and the municipal public works department.

    Another factor to consider is that storm water doesn’t have to be treated like sewage does–just routed to a collection basin somewhere. This is beneficial to the water utility, because it NEEDS that water to flow to its treament facility in order to turn it around and sell it to customers.

    Most big run off producers, after roads, are commercial developments that have large parking lots and roofs. Many communities charge these entities impact fees already. If stormwater systems need to be improved to collect their runoff, then maybe a stormwater component should be added to the impact fee calculation. Charging anyone for ongoing ‘usage’ of the stormwater system is ludicrous.

    Taxing a homeowner based on their property’s impervious area is not a justifiable system since not all impervious areas route runoff to a municipal stormwater system. The way my home sits on its lot, water flows away from the road and the storm drains, so that the runoff from my roof and my driveway goes into my lawn. Whatever does not soak into my little piece of ground ends up in a pond on nearby property. Those homesites that do send runoff to the stormwater collection system are not responsible for even a pittance of system flows.

    Erick, I’d recommend you talk through some of these issues with a civil engineer to prepare your argument against the bureaucrats.

  20. AKA Progressive Dem says:

    “The largest impervious areas creating runoff in any developed community are its roads.”

    I don’t believe that is correct at all. The single largest type of land use by far in every developed community is for single-family homes. Check out a comprehensive plan that describes existing land uses. All of the subdivision streets that are serving single-family homes were built by the developer who sold the building lots that access the roads. So those homes generated the streets and the water that runs off them.

    Each home has a roof and most have paved driveways. The combined imprevious surface of single-family homes is greater than the amount of impervious surface generated by commercial and institutional uses. A local government would love to have tax base that wasn’t primarily residential.

    We would be much better off if single family homes drained into their lots and did not contribute to stormwater systems, however that is usually not the case. Typically some of the downspouts drain onto the driveway and most driveways (two-car) drain into the street.

    Another factor to consider is that the biggest source of water pollution is non-point pollution from water run-off. Very few industrial plants are polluting rivers and streams. The asphalt shingle particles that come all our roofs, the bits of rubber that wear off our tires when we brake, our brake pads, the oil, transmission fluid and gasoline that leak from our cars in the parking lots and the over use of fertilizers and pesticides in our yards end up in the streams and rivers. Many cities and towns, particularly those in coastal areas are beginning to require property owners to filter the first “flush” of rainwater before it enters the storm water system.

  21. Joshua Morris says:

    “I don’t believe that is correct at all.”

    It doesn’t matter what you believe. Facts are stubborn things. Imagine the amount of impervious surface area in 1 mile of interstate in each direction from a developed exit–say Jimmy Carter Blvd for example. Then add the area of the roads coming off the exit and feeding the commercial & retail areas. Now compare that to the rooftops and paved areas at that exit. I think you’ll find that roads produce more storm runoff than anything else. And those “subdivision streets” you mention are public roads that can be used by anyone. Wherever people live, roads will be required. Maybe you should lobby for a mandate requiring subdivisions to have dirt or gravel roads. I’m sure that would go over quite well.

    “Typically some of the downspouts drain onto the driveway and most driveways (two-car) drain into the street.”

    You don’t know what you’re talking about. Most residential downspouts spill onto lawns or surfaces that slope toward soil. In fact, residential grading often routes water to ditches and streams. Residential lots don’t typically send much of anything to storm drains, unless they’re in an urban area where everything is paved. Lots that slope away from roads don’t send anything to the stormwater system.

    AKA PD, I design plumbing systems, including storm drainage from commercial buildings. I work with civil engineers on a regular basis and am quite familiar with site plans and hydrology studies. Residential properties have a very small impact on stormwater collection systems. I see no valid argument for taxing homeowners based on their roof & pavement areas.

  22. Doug Deal says:

    Half of my property (that which isn’t soaked up by the thick pine trees and brush) drains to a large un-used argicultural zoned parcel behind my house and the rest collects in my culvert in the front where it eventually soaks into the ground, disappearing into the ether. I wonder how much I will have to pay for my 1 acre lot with about 10% imperveous area that is so overburdening the storm drainage system.

    My property assessment also went up $70,000 over last year to a price $40,000 above what recent properties have sold in the neighborhood, so this additional tax is just a drop in the bucket.

  23. Surveyor says:

    I don’t believe that is correct at all. The single largest type of land use by far in every developed community is for single-family homes. Check out a comprehensive plan that describes existing land uses. All of the subdivision streets that are serving single-family homes were built by the developer who sold the building lots that access the roads. So those homes generated the streets and the water that runs off them.

    Certainly, land use is overwhelmingly residential, in general. With that said, land use is only one of many factors to be considered in stormwater design. The existing and proposed topography is far more important when considering the effect of stormwater runoff on the existing water basin, specifically in how it is affected by road design. It is certainly impossible to even guess at the ratio of lots that drain to roads versus lots that drain to existing creeks, ponds, and detention facilities. While you noted that local residential streets are built by the site developers, you fail to mention that those stormwater and detention facilites are also built by the developer, according to whatever county or municipality regulations in place. Beyond that, the developer is generally required to pay for impact and environmental permits out the wazoo, and rightfully so. They are impacting a shared resource that must be regulated for the public welfare.

    Each home has a roof and most have paved driveways. The combined imprevious surface of single-family homes is greater than the amount of impervious surface generated by commercial and institutional uses. A local government would love to have tax base that wasn’t primarily residential.

    There is no way for you to make this assertion.

    We would be much better off if single family homes drained into their lots and did not contribute to stormwater systems, however that is usually not the case. Typically some of the downspouts drain onto the driveway and most driveways (two-car) drain into the street.

    I would say, again, that you have no way of making this assertion, and let me show you why, even for one lot:
    1. What’s the runoff coefficient for asphalt shingles? Asphalt driveway? Concrete walk? Brick walk? Wood decking? Aluminum roofing?
    2. What areas on the lot fall into the above categories (and that list is by no means comprehensive)?
    3. What’s the runoff coefficient for the remaining surfaces on the lot? Believe it or not, pasture and wooded areas still generate runoff after saturation. Impervious surfaces just reach that point faster.
    4. What linear footage of pipe or ditch separates the lot runoff from the nearest outfall?
    5. What time of concentration is associated with above linear footage?
    6. What area of the lot drains to natural outfall?
    7. What area of the lot drains to stormwater facilities?
    8. Based on said areas, what is the peak discharge to stormwater facilities for the lot?
    9. What strain does that discharge put on said stormwater facilities? Over how long?

    I could go on, but you get the idea. The enormity of determining “what’s fair” under the proposed plan is mind-boggling, unless one plans on rough area and basin estimates and simply applying a rate per square footage of impervious surface. That idea is decidedly unfair, obviously.

    Another factor to consider is that the biggest source of water pollution is non-point pollution from water run-off. Very few industrial plants are polluting rivers and streams. The asphalt shingle particles that come all our roofs, the bits of rubber that wear off our tires when we brake, our brake pads, the oil, transmission fluid and gasoline that leak from our cars in the parking lots and the over use of fertilizers and pesticides in our yards end up in the streams and rivers. Many cities and towns, particularly those in coastal areas are beginning to require property owners to filter the first “flush” of rainwater before it enters the storm water system.

    Yes, humans have quite an impact on their environment. The only animals that come close are beavers, if you want to call that a comparison. Our stormwater BMP’s have come extremely far, but we still have a ways to go before our impact can be considered negligible. With that said, taxing impervious surface and justifying it by complaining of human environmental impact is asinine, even at face value.

  24. AKA Progressive Dem says:

    Even if they mess with waterways, I still like beavers.

    The previous post to mine said storm water didn’t need to be treated. I was pointing out that storm water is polluted and bmp recommend cleaning it before it enters a natural system.

    The tax can be justified by recognizing that the conyence system built by the developer and dedicated to the local government must be maintained. Some property owners particularly commercial and institutional properties with intense lot coverage put a greater demand on the system then others. Those that use more should pay more – that’s not a radical or assine concept.

    The storm water utility fee that has been adopted in Peachtree City, DeKalb and I believe Henry don’t require hydrology studies for each property which might be the most equitable way, but is totally impractical. These jurisdictions assign one value for all single-family homes, and take a more precise measurement for commercial and institutional property.

    “Facts are stubborn things. Imagine the amount of impervious surface …” Too bad you aren’t using any, and a bogus example to boot. When did Gwinnett County become mostly Interstate highway and interchanges? Nice image you have of your community! The overwhelming majority of structures in the county are single-family homes. And yes they have trees and grass around them, but those homes required storm water management systems when they were built, and the cost of maintaining them has to be paid for. “Residential properties have a very small impact on stormwater collection systems.” Regardless of the dubious accuracy of that statement, we have storm water collection systems throughout residential areas. They cost money and they must be maintained by local government.

    One further point, metro Atlanta treats streams and creeks as an extension of our storm water sewers. The people downstream don’t really appreciate that. We have a responsibility to not pollute their drinking water. We also have responsibility to restore water quality by repairing stream banks that are scoured out during peak periods of runoff. And we shouldn’t be flooding the people that live downstream as we build and build more impervious surfaces. The storm water utlity fees can also be used for flood control and restoring water quality.

  25. Joshua Morris says:

    I kinda see him like an Iranian militant–unwilling to acknowledge obvious truths and impossible to reason with.

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