America's Cold Civil War

We are in the process of passing a Stormwater Management Fee of $8.00 per home annually. Not a large fee, not a large tax, but it still is a tax and a fee. What is it for? Why are we doing it? Those are the two questions I'd like to address here.

I did see on another page comments in regards to the Stormwater Management and there appears to be a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of misstatements, that I would like to clear up.

First of all, Irmo doesn't have a stormwater management department. Whoever said that, is wrong. Whoever repeated it, was wrong and incorrect. Since I know one councilmember started this debate I would hope he would be the one to get on that page and correct the misstatements. But he doesn't, maybe he doesn't know, maybe he doesn't care, or maybe he just cares about causing a lot of strife in the community.

The EPA has been getting tougher and tougher on stormwater. Which is NOT sewer, but rain water (or melting snow which we don't usually have) that gets in the stormwater systems, that gets into the rivers, lakes, the ocean. It may carry with it anything in your yard from fertilizer, antifreeze, motor oil, detergents, to animal feces. It may also carry chemicals from businesses. EPA requires stormwater to be tested. Much more today than they did years ago. They have passed laws at the federal level, on the states,and local governments to address the issues. They are unfunded mandates, meaning they give no money to cover it. They require all local governments to do certain things, and meet certain guidelines, or you are fined. They also require local governments to have a stormwater management department/personnel. They do allow smaller municipalities to work with counties who have the personnel. The Town of Irmo, like many other things, has signed on to Lexington County Stormwater Management Consortium. And we have adopted their ordinances governing stormwater management/stormwater policy. We pay to the Consortium. I believe about $11,000 a year is our portion based on population, etc.

In order for the Town to be in compliance with the guidelines and regulations we have to test stormwater leaving the municipalities at certain areas. If we find traces in the stormwater of chemicals, animal feces, human feces, etc. we have to test backwards until we find the source. We have to pay for those tests. As we had mentioned in previous meetings (budget and town council), the cost to the town to do the testing, the permit costs, our cost to belong to the Consortium has approached $30,000 annually. In years past we paid these costs out of general funds, but as medical and liability insurance, employee benefits, retirement contributions, and all other costs increase, just like in your home, utilities, gas, etc. our General Fund is getting pinched. Just like you, you have to live within your means. You either increase your income/revenue, or you cut your spending. Since our spending is very limited in the Town as it is, most is payroll, most is police department, public works, there is no programs and/or services that the Town can eliminate. So we have to increase revenue. The State limits that as well.

We do not have a municipal property tax in the Town of Irmo. You pay a property tax to the County, but not to the Town. So we do not have a property tax to increase. We can bring one back, and depending on what millage we brought back we could pay for a lot of things citizens want. And if we brought back an even higher property tax, we could pay for the things the citizens want and all the things every councilmember wants. Worthwhile or not. But I don't think that is the avenue we need to take at this time.

The State does allow municipalities to charge service fees to offset costs of providing some services. We have decided to charge this annual $8.00 per home Stormwater Mangement Fee to cover the cost imposed upon the Town by unfunded mandates from the federal and state governments. We have no choice whether to do it or not, the fines would be more, and you would still have to do it after the fine, or face more fines. I'm not happy, neither are other councilmembers, but this is the cost of this service to the Town. At our last meeting, Whitt Cline, our Public Works Director who does the testing and oversees the Town's compliance with the EPA mandates and the County Stormwater Management Policy mentioned that probably in the next year 30% of his time will be involved in Stormwater Management. Which means we may need to hire an additional employee to do nothing but stormwater management, which is an additional $40-60,000 cost when you add in salary, insurance, benefits, retirement, etc.

It was mentioned on that page that we shouldn't be doing this, that it was DOT's responsibility. No it isn't. Most of the roads in Irmo are not covered by DOT, they're County roads. EPA and the Feds, and the State did not mandate DOT to do stormwater management, they mandated local governments (counties and municipalities) to do this. DOT doesn't do it on interstates, state highways, not anywhere. They may design stormwater systems when a DOT road is being built or widened, but after that it's not theirs. It's counties and/or municipalities.

Now it is easy to get on a facebook page and talk about Irmo or how any government ought to do this, ought not to do that, but if that ain't what the law says, that ain't what the law says. And that ain't what you can do. We're doing what the law requires because that is what the law requires us to do. If we didn't have to do it, if you know me, then you know we wouldn't be doing it. If they gave us the money to do what they tell us to, we wouldn't have to be raising the fees, raising a tax, to cover the cost.

You have state legislators, you have legislators in Washington, you pay taxes to your county, you pay taxes to your state, and you pay taxes to Washington. That is who you should be talking to about unfunded mandates. All those are is a way for elected people in Washington, at the State House, to say “oh, look what we are doing, look what we are fixing”, but they are not willing to raise the taxes to raise the revenue to fix it. They leave it up to the municipalities to be the bad guys, and raise the taxes. We're at the bottom of the totem pole. Talk to your state legislators, ask them to start funding these things, ask them to man up and vote to increase taxes at the state level to pay for this stuff. And if they won't, then don't pass bills without funding them.

By the way it is my understanding that the City of Columbia adds an $11.00 stormwater management fee every month to every home in the City of Columbia.