Stormwater Department Challenges Persist

Stormwater Department Challenges Persist
Journal Review 1/20/2009
by Frank Phillips

Storms clouds are gathering over the city of Crawfordsville and they have nothing to do with the weather.

In this day of company shutdowns and layoffs, the city’s new Storm Water Utility department is a focus of contention.

That department is largely the result of a federal program called MS4 which stands for Municipal Separate Storm Water System. However, MS4 is concerned with water quality and the Storm Water Utility Department is concerned with both water quality and quantity.

The MS4 program came into being through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Water Act of 1988.

Since 2003, the program has been an unfunded mandate of the federal government involving cities of 10,000 population or more, meaning Crawfordsville taxpayers are required by the EPA to fund the program with no financial assistance from the EPA.

The local MS4 program was expanded on Jan. 1, 2008, when the city’s first MS4 was hired to fulfill the federal mandate.

In June, the new Storm Water Utility Department board was formed.

The department is not contentious because of the MS4 program. MS4 is a federal mandate and that is that.

The Storm Water Utility Department became a problem when a consulting firm studied the issue and recommended a $900,000 annual budget.
That is unlikely to happen.

After three city council members asked the Storm Water Utility Board to pare down the consultants recommendation, it looks like Gary Weliver, the MS4 operator, will be working with other city department heads to clean sanitary sewer grates, clean out the pipes carrying rain water away and otherwise fulfill the requirements of MS4 using existing personnel.

The need to fix the city’s storm water sewer problem is nothing new.

With the annexation of Eastern Acres, the city is taking on a flooding problem that has existed since that area was transformed from farmland to housing and businesses.
It is not a waste water problem because the waste water does not cause flooding in the area. Flooding occurs when too much rain falls in too short a time period. Therefore it is a storm water issue.

Another example of the need to address storm water arose when a large wooden storm sewer running from the area around Wabash College to Sugar Creek collapsed several years ago, causing a large sinkhole in a resident’s back yard.

There is no question the city should address its storm water issues.

But the time of increasing taxes is really bad.
With massive layoffs of workers in the city and the world’s economic future uncertain, now is not the time to even consider adding fees to property owners, whether they be residents or owners of commercial property.

There have been seven property foreclosures in Crawfordsville since Oct. 1, according to the website www.foreclosurelistings.com.

We watched as the city council struggled to cut its 2009 budget from 2008 levels last year and unless significant relief comes from the state, the city council will have to make deeper cuts for the city’s 2010 budget.

Of course there are only two budget relief scenarios possible. One is increased taxes and property owners do not need that. The other is elimination of city employee positions. That might well result in decreased city services and residences not need that.

Additional taxes in the form of storm water utility fees and just not a good idea right now.
But, because the EPA has mandated the MS4 program, the city may not have much of a choice.