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Buda blocks proposed drainage fee

Dissenting opinions on possible addition of a drainage fee to utility bills led city leaders to take pause on the matter.

The idea of a proposed drainage fee was brought up during the city’s budget workshop discussion, which was held at the July 18 city council meeting. While no action was taken, city council members were split on whether the fee was a good idea.

“The idea that we need to add another fee is ridiculous,” council member George Haehn said.

Grady Reed, a representative with HDR,  said the drainage fee is something the city “can collect and spend however it wants,” but can only be spent on capital improvement projects and operations and maintenance that deal with water and stormwater.

Reed said the city’s Stormwater Utility Feasibility study was started in late 2014 and was suspended after a public survey in 2015 showed an unfavorable response to the fee.

Reed said there were a total of 300 responses to the survey, in which 66 percent of respondents said “No” to a drainage fee. Only 33 percent were in favor of a possible fee.

Reed said survey respondents were asked what kind of a fee would be reasonable if such a fee were adopted. Respondents felt a range of $4 to $6 a month would be acceptable.

Reed said if adopted and utilized, the fee would “be levied upon every parcel in the city limits,” meaning residential and businesses alike.

Reed broke down the fee for council members, explaining $1 for each Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU), which equates to one single-family home, per month could net $100,000 in revenue for the city.

Reed said residents may only have to pay $1 per month towards a drainage fee, while commercial residential units, such as apartment complexes that measure 10,000 square-feet, would be charged five ERUs.

Revenue from the proposed drainage fee could not be used for water projects already under construction or anything done in the past.

Council member Eileen Altmiller, who was the lone supporter of the drainage fee, said funds for drainage projects “don’t always happen,” as drainage can be cast aside to make way for more interesting capital improvement projects.

“There’s a definite need for this,” Altmiller said.

Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Lane and Mayor Todd Ruge were interested in a possible compromise instead of adopting a specific drainage/stormwater fee.

Their solution was to create an enterprise fund where money would be earmarked for drainage projects.

Council member Lee Urbanovsky, who was against the fee, said council should find a way to mitigate Buda’s drainage issues without generating another tax.

“I don’t think it’s needed,” Urbanovsky said.

Reed said San Marcos and Kyle have already adopted a stormwater fee to address drainage issues. Those fees are to keep drainage needs from competing with other needs in the general fund, Reed said.

“Drainage isn’t as sexy as a new splash pad or parks,” Ruge said.

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