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County proposes implementing new stormwater fee

Posted on Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 6:00 am

By Charlie Reed
For the News-Gazette
Osceola County is considering creating a new stormwater utility fee to improve the quality of local waterways and comply with federal water quality standards.
Before Osceola county commissioners vote on the matter in October, several public meetings are being held to explain why the fee has been proposed and to get input from residents and business owners.
One such meeting was on Monday night at Magnuson Hotel on U.S. Highway 192 with three more scheduled in the coming weeks. The next is at Osceola Heritage Park on Saturday. The meetings are being run by county staff and a representative from CDM Smith, a private consulting firm hired by the county to study the feasibility of a creating a stormwater fee for homes and businesses in unincorporated Osceola County.
The proposed monthly fee would range from $3.50 up to $44.16 for single-family homes (houses, condominiums and mobile homes) based on square-footage and the amount of stormwater runoff a particular property generates, according to information packets handed out during the meeting. The proposed stormwater fee for non-residential properties (commercial, industrial, agricultural, governmental and institutional buildings) would be calculated based on a building’s square-footage and the square-footage of other impervious surfaces on the property, such as parking lots.
A similar proposal by Osceola County failed to
get commission approval in 2009.
Stormwater runoff is rain that falls onto rooftops, driveways, parking lots roads and other impervious surfaces picking up fertilizers, sediment, trash and other pollutants as it flows into local lakes, creeks and retention ponds.
Along with flooding that damages streets, buildings and creek banks, stormwater contains high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen that kill fish, contribute to algae and hydrilla growth and clog waterways.
The current stormwater program is funded through Osceola County’s general fund, which for fiscal years 2017 is $288.5 million and comes mostly from the collection of property tax, also known as ad valorem tax.
Stormwater Program Manager Susan Gosselin said there are insufficient funds to address all of the new unfunded federal mandates to improve water quality, many of which fall under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.
County staff have proposed creating what’s called an enterprise fund for stormwater, much like the funds already established for water, wastewater and solid waste utilities that are paid in addition to property taxes, according to the county’s presentation.
Enterprise funds for landfills, Poinciana Parkway and Osceola Parkway total $81.7 million. Other special revenue funds collected and managed by Osceola County for a variety of services – from parks to public safety – total $412.1 million. In all, Osceola County’s total budget is $1.16 billion.
The fee, according to staff, is the most equitable option to raise the money needed for stormwater improvement because residents and business owners pay based on the stormwater their property generates not the property’s value.
“We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” said Jeremy Fetzer, who until this past June was Osceola County’s budget supervisor.
Fetzer, now a freelance consultant, accused county staff of misleading the public about the need to create a new stormwater fee.
“The county’s not broke,” he said during the meeting, adding that if there is public money to contribute to the public-private NeoCity sensor research facility and the Silver Spurs Rodeo then there should be enough to improve the stormwater system.
Sherwood Forest resident John Salvucci, a board member for the Federation of Manufactured Homeowners of Florida, asked whether mobile home park owners or individual residents would be responsible for the fee.
Gosselin told Salvucci it would depend on existing systems and other factors at individual sites.
As new residential and commercial development continues to cover untouched land that would help naturally slow flooding from heavy rains and better filter stormwater throughout Florida, water pollution is constant companion of growth in the Sunshine State.
Neighborhood flooding and poor water quality in places like Lake Tohopekaliga and the Kissimmee River doesn’t just affect Osceola County. Stormwater runoff from Central Florida also negatively affects Lake Okeechobee, the Florida Everglades and communities to the south.
The next public meeting on the proposed stormwater fee will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at Osceola Heritage Park.
If you can’t attend, call 407-742-0662 to give your opinion or get more information about the proposed fee. You can also email: stormwater@