By Justin Boron
About a year from now, Clayton County residents are expected to have an estimated $36 to $72 added onto their water utility bills each year, water authority officials say. Businesses would also have to ante up. But the cost for each one would vary depending on the amount of runoff they create.
The new fee, divided onto monthly bills, would fund a mandated program that officials say aspires to rehabilitate the stormwater infrastructure collecting runoff in the county and ultimately improve water quality in the area's creeks and streams.
The need for the program partially stems from unfunded, federal mandates under Clean Water Act. To comply with those guidelines, the county and its cities are implementing a stormwater management program through the Clayton County Water Authority.
Not doing so would put at risk the county's ability to grow because state environmental officials could halt sewage connections to new businesses and homes, said Mike Thomas, the manager for program management at the water authority.
Several other counties and cities in the metro Atlanta region also are in the process of implementing stormwater programs. Some cities, like Stockbridge in Henry County, already have implemented the programs.
Clayton County is doing some work on the stormwater systems with $10 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money.
But Thomas said ratcheting up the efforts is necessary to repair outdated pipes.
"Fifty-percent the stormwater pipes are close to failing," he said.
Wayne Patterson, director of transportation and development, also said the SPLOST money wouldn't be enough to fix the neighborhood systems, some of which are already not working.
"We've got subdivisions that have been failing for 10 years now," he said.
A citizen advisory group will make a recommendation over the next two to three months that could influence how much people will pay and how much service the program will provide them.
The group, which met this week, consists of developers, residents, and representatives of the business community.
Ultimately, the Board of Commissioners and individual city councils will have the final say.
The bottom rung of programs would allow the water authority to make stormwater repairs on public rights of way.
Costing residents $3 a month, a middle-of-the-road level would enable the water authority to make repairs of some pipes on private property. Thomas said this would help resolve some of the flooding problems that occur when it rains.
At the most, the program would repair all ditches and pipes on private property. It also could include some stream restoration. Thomas said this program could cost residents in excess of $6 a month.
It's conceivable that the county and cities could bring themselves into compliance with federal guidelines while avoiding charging residents and business owners extra money. But to do that, Thomas said the governments would have to dedicate at the very least $4 million in general fund money. He also said much of the close to $1.2 million already spent on implementing the stormwater program would be wasted.