Stormwater Management Utility Fee

The City of Pleasant Hill passed a Stormwater Management Utility Ordinance on April 28, 2015 that went into effect July 1, 2015. The purpose of the ordinance is to establish a utility responsible for stormwater management within the corporate boundaries of the City of Pleasant Hill and provide for the management, protection, control, regulation, use and enhancement of stormwater systems and facilities.

Why is there a need for Stormwater Management?

Prior to passing a stormwater utility, The City of Pleasant Hill undertook watershed assessment studies including scientific assessments to determine future risks for flooding and public engagement opportunities to receive feedback and recommendations. The result of this process was a Stormwater Master Plan that identified projects to reduce flood risk and improve water quality. Part of the passing of the Stormwater Utility Ordinance the City of Pleasant Hill was to provide dedicated funding to complete recommended watershed improvements, provide funding for regular operations and maintenance of the stormwater system, and increase mandated requirements to comply with state and federal laws. 

What is a stormwater utility fee?

Stormwater management fees are billed monthly to all customers to fund the City’s stormwater management program and facilities. Stormwater utility charges to properties are based on that property’s need for stormwater management and facilities. Property owners are charged stormwater management fees based on the total impervious surface area on the property but no less than one ERU per dwelling unit. This impervious area includes driveways, rooftops, sheds, and other paved areas. The utility charges property use differently:

  • All single family dwelling properties are charged one ERU.
  • Townhomes, apartments and condominiums are treated as one single family dwelling. 
  • Commercial and industrial properties with greater than one ERU of impervious surface are charged for the total ERUs but not more than a total of 65 ERUs. 

What is an ERU?

An ERU (equivalent residential unit) is a measure of impervious surface on a property. The City of Pleasant Hill has established one ERU as 3,500 square feet of impervious surface. The ERU measurement can vary from one municipality to another. Based on a 2016 Utility Fee Survey conducted by Iowa Storm Water Education Partnership (ISWEP) with responses from 63 participating communities the average ERU was found to be 3,250 sq. ft. with a range from 2,000 to 12,750 sq. ft. 

Do other cities have stormwater user-fees?

Many municipalities in Iowa and across the country have established stormwater utilities to fund their stormwater management programs and facilities. The 2016 Utility Fee Survey conducted by ISWEP found the average user fee per 1-ERU is $4.05 with a range from $1.95 to $11.50 per 1-ERU. The average user fee in the Des Moines Metro is higher at $5.56. This does not take into account the different fees each municipality charge for different land uses. While some municipalities like Pleasant Hill use a consistent $3.00 per ERU charge for all uses, some municipalities will charge different and often higher fees for higher density or more intense development like multi-family, commercial, or industrial uses. Also, not all communities use ERUs and have decided to use Flat Rate Fees or a single charge for utility bill regardless of land use or measures of imperviousness. The 2016 survey found Flat Rate Fees ranged from $1.00 to $7.50 per unit.

2016 Utility Fee Survey Summary Results
2016 Utility Fee Infographic Summary

Who pays the fees?

Owners of all developed land in the City of Pleasant Hill pay the stormwater utility fee. This includes residential properties, commercial properties, industrial properties, churches, schools and other non-profit organizations. Undeveloped land is not charged stormwater utility fees because it does not have impervious surfaces.

How is a stormwater utility fee different from a tax?

The stormwater utility fee is a user fee, much like the fee that you pay for your water utility or sanitary sewer utility services. Users of these services are charged for the demand they place on the system. This user fee system is a fair and equitable way to raise revenue for the program since it charges those who directly contribute to its need.
The stormwater that flows off your property places a demand on a vast system of stormwater infrastructure, which is costly to operate and maintain. Existing water utility fees do not pay for stormwater management. However, the problem of water pollution has called attention to the need for greater safeguards in the management of stormwater. The city must minimize the impacts of flooding and stormwater pollution from the runoff generated from rooftops, yards, parking lots, and streets. 

How are the stormwater management fees used?

The stormwater management fees pay for operations and maintenance costs of the stormwater management programs and facilities. Some of the services tied to the stormwater management program include the provision of adequate systems of collection, conveyance, detention, treatment, and release of stormwater; the reduction of hazard to property and life resulting from stormwater runoff and flooding; improvement in general health and welfare through reduction of undesirable stormwater conditions and flooding; and improvement to the water quality in the stormwater and surface water systems and its receiving waters. 

Does the City have a Best Management Practice (BMP) Reimbursement Program?

Yes, the ordinance provides a reimbursement program for residential properties. In the past the BMP reimbursement program provided assistance for the purchase of rain barrels to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that leaves individual properties. Starting in 2018, the City will also include other BMPs qualified for reimbursement. Practices such as rain gardens, bio-retention cells, permeable pavement, and soil quality restoration projects will be eligible for reimbursement. 

Rain barrels are reimbursable up to 50% at a maximum of $75, while other BMPs are reimbursable at 50% at maximum of $750, whichever is the lesser value. There is a limit of one rain barrel reimbursement per family and each project must be completed within the fiscal year that it is approved. The City can accommodate projects up to the fiscal year budget of $5,000 allocated for BMP reimbursement and will evaluate and consider projects until the budget has been reached for the fiscal year. 

Is gravel considered and impervious surface?

Yes.  It is difficult for water to soak into a packed gravel surface. Once gravel is compacted, surface water runs off of it much like a paved surface. The gravel may slow the flow of water from an area, but nearly the same amount of runoff will flow from under the gravel as if the gravel was not there.  Many flat roofs are covered with gravel, but they still shed the rainwater that falls on them.  In addition, if cars or heavy equipment are traveling on gravel surfaces, the runoff typically carries pollutants like metals or petroleum into our waterways.