What is Storm Water Utility?

What is storm water run-off and why do we treat it?  Storm water run-off is generated from rain or melting snow that flows across land or impervious surface instead of seeping into the ground.  As it flows, run off can pick up and carry substances that pollute water.  These substances include chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers, oil, etc. as well as natural material like sediment, bacteria, leaves and garbage.  In developed areas, precipitation falling on impervious surfaces like roofs, driveways and parking lots does not seep into the ground, it runs off.  Polluted storm water runoff is the major cause of water pollution.


Why should we treat storm water?   Treatment removes many harmful chemicals and material before they reach our lakes, streams and waterways, effectively protecting and improving water quality.  Preventing pollution from entering water is more affordable than cleaning polluted water.  We all drink water, consume food grown with or in water and recreate in it.  We are all affected when water is polluted

Who requires the City to treat storm water?  The Federal Clean Water Act and Minnesota Environmental Protection Agency.  These agencies require Bemidji to meet water quality standards to protect public health.  The actions required include reducing the amount of pollution that ends up in our drinking water and other water resources.  The City must obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit as well as a state MS4 permit to discharge storm water into waterways.  Minimum requirements to maintain the permit include:

1.      Conduct public education and outreach
2.      Public participation and involvement
3.      Detect and eliminate illicit discharges
4.      Control construction site storm water runoff
5.      Control post-construction runoff
6.      Pollution prevention/Housekeeping for municipal operations

What is a storm water fee and why do we have one?  Like gas and electricity, storm water runoff can be managed as a utility and billed as a fee.  The state does not charge residents for storm water management but requires cities to do so.  This an unfunded mandate passed down by higher levels of government.  Fees are how Bemidji chooses to raise funds to perform the six steps above. 

How is the storm water fee determined?  The City hired a consultant to study the issue and determine a fee structure based on a property’s contribution to storm water runoff.  The more impervious surface area (roofs, parking lots, streets, sidewalks) a parcel has, the more storm water run-off the property theoretically has and therefore the higher the fee. 

Is the storm water fee structure perfect?  No. Not all property types contribute runoff to the same degree.  The City has different rates for the following property classifications: 1) owner occupied, 2) rentals, 3) businesses, 4) medical/university, 5) agriculture/vacant land.  The fee for owner occupied parcels is the same regardless of property size.  Rental property fees are based on the number of rental units.  Fee calculations for classifications 3 to 5 are based on property size.  If property is determined to be outside an area served by storm water treatment systems, it is charged a discounted rate of 50%.
How does this benefit the average taxpayer?  When water is polluted, we all pay in one way or another.  Flooding, erosion and pollution impact food prices, drinking water, insurance rates, tourism and many other areas of our lives.
When did the storm water fee start?  2001.  Prior to this storm water costs were funded by property taxes.  The City’s property tax base is 51% non-taxable.  A primary reason for the fee approach was the ability to access and raise revenue from tax-exempt property so all benefitting property owners contribute.

How is the storm water fee money spent?  The fee raises approximately $1.2 million annually.  The money is spent on construction of new storm water treatment systems including retention ponds, curb and gutter streets, equipment and drainage systems.  It also pays for annual storm water operations like street sweeping, pond maintenance, administration and wetland inspections.

My property doesn’t have any visible storm water treatment system or storm water doesn’t leave my property, why should I pay a fee?  The difficulty with storm water is the lack of direct correlation between services provided and benefits received.  There is no visual connection to indicate the service or benefit has been received, such as what a meter reading does for electricity or a garbage can does for refuse.  A good correlation is paying school district taxes for the education of young people.  Even though you may not have children in the school system, you still pay school taxes.  Why?  Because education benefits the community.  If only people with kids attending school paid taxes to support it, our education system and community would not be what they are today.
Is the storm water fee a tax?  User fees represent a fee for service provided and are commonly used to fund public works programs such as water, sewer and solid waste. The storm water fee applies to all property, taxable and non-taxable.  If storm water costs were only funded by property tax paying parcels, City taxes would increase 25%.  Applying a fee to ALL properties is the most reasonable and equitable way to collect the necessary revenue.  Whether you consider it a tax or a fee, it is a cost dedicated for storm water treatment which benefits the community.
  • All single-family residential parcels are billed a flat rate. Fees for other land users are based on the parcel square footage and land use category below.
  • Property exempt from taxes (state, local and City government, churches, schools, and hospitals) will now pay for their portion of the costs of the stormwater utility.
  • Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) is used to categorize property to determine rate charge based on projected contribution to stormwater runoff. One ERU is equal to $4.50 per month. 

    Single Family Household 1.0
    Multi-Family Units and/or rentals 1.0 + .5 (per unit)
    Business/Industrial 1.0 per 3,700 sq.ft. (total land)
    Medical Office 1.0 per 6,700 sq.ft. (total land)
    University 1.0 per 6,700 sq.ft. (total land)
    Agriculture/Open/Vacant Lot 1.0 per 10 acres
    Minimum Charge (2.5 acres or less) $1.11 per month