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County pursuing stormwater utility
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The first steps have been taken in bringing a stormwater utility to residents in Newton County.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners approved a $215,700 task order at their Sept. 4 meeting to Integrated Science and Engineering Inc. for the first two phases of a comprehensive stormwater management program.

In the next six months ISE, with the help of the county's Department of Geographic Information Systems, will conduct a comprehensive survey of all of the impervious surfaces in the county in order to calculate an appropriate stormwater fee.

Impervious surfaces are surfaces which do not allow the penetration of water to the ground soil such as asphalt and concrete.

Largely rural and undeveloped areas do not have many impervious surfaces; therefore they absorb more stormwater.

Highly developed areas such as subdivisions, apartment complexes and shopping centers are largely filled with impervious surfaces thus resulting in greater stormwater runoff to the county's watersheds.

"The idea is that those people who have more impervious area will pay a higher pro-rated amount for maintenance of the stormwater system," said Newton County Water Resources Director Karl Kelley who is working with ISE on the survey. "An apartment complex for example should pay a higher stormwater fee simply because they have more impervious area."

According to Kelley, the BOC is pursuing a stormwater utility in order to pay for improvements and maintenance of the county's stormwater system as mandated by the federal Clean Water Act. As the Clean Water Act does not provide any funding for the implementation of its requirements, it is left to local governments to raise the capital themselves Kelley said.

"We have to inventory all of the detention ponds in the county, assess their status and condition and develop a maintenance plan for reach one of them," said Kelley. "We also have to inventory all of the outfalls (the downstream ends of storm pipes) and assess the stormwater pipe network."

Kelley said that the only way for the county to implement all of the requirements of the Clean Water Act without going through the general fund is to implement a new fee. Kelley described the stormwater utility as a user fee, charging a higher rate to those residents and businesses who contribute the most to stormwater runoff.

While Kelley said the county will have no idea what the stormwater rates will be until ISE completes its survey in approximately six months time, a sample of some monthly stormwater base rates taken from surrounding areas is as follows: city of Covington, $3.23 per 2,600 square feet; city of Oxford, $2 per 2,300 square feet; Rockdale County, $3.38 per 3,420 square feet. All rates were provided by the Southeast Stormwater Association Inc.

"Basically it's almost a lot-by-lot calculation," said Kelley of ISE's categorization of all of the land parcels in the county. "There's a lot of grunt work and tedious study of existing residences and commercial businesses."

The BOC is paying ISE for its services with funds from the county's general fund.

"If the board decides to establish a utility then the utility will repay the general fund through its collections," Kelley said.

Storm water utility collections would only be used to maintain the county's storm water system Kelley said.

"During the next year or so there will be a number of public hearings and meetings to take input from the public and probably two or three presentations to the board in the form of progress reports as we are moving along," Kelley said.

Kelley estimated that county residents could be receiving storm water utility bills by early 2009.