BUCKHANNON — Buckhannon City Council last Thursday passed a measure authorizing the establishment of a comprehensive storm water management system, a move mayor David McCauley said will save the city “tens of thousands of dollars.”
Ordinance 415, which passed unanimously on first reading at the March 2 council meeting, not only allows the city to create a comprehensive storm water management system, but also puts the city’s sanitary board in charge of managing that system.
City attorney Tom O’Neill explained the basics to council.
“What we’re trying to do here is create a system whereby state code allows the city to establish a storm water system, and this ordinance begins the process of doing so under the authority of the sanitary board, which will now have two divisions,” O’Neill said. One division will be the sanitary/sewer division, which is regulated by the Public Service Commission, while the other will be the storm water division, O’Neill said. This separation means that storm water functions will be a distinct division under the umbrella of the sanitary board.
“That (separation) is done for a couple reasons, the most important reason being that storm water functions are not regulated by the PSC so there can be no commingling of funds or assets between the sanitary functions of the board and the storm water functions of the board,” O’Neill explained.
O’Neill said that in the future, the sanitary board and council will have to consider the setting of rates to generate revenue that will pay for storm water system functions.
“(The sanitary board and city council) will also be responsible for establishing regulatory measures to define standards for the use of property in such a way as to mitigate pollution hazards to run off and possibly even to the point of setting fines or penalties that would be enforcement measures,” O’Neill said.
Calling the measure “one of the biggest undertakings that this council will ever formalize,” McCauley said the ordinance is key because the city has never had a full-blown storm water management system, but has instead fixed what needs to be fixed on piecemeal basis.
“We’ve never had a comprehensive plan to handle storm water,” McCauley said. “We’re very reactive. We do a project here and there to band-aid the fix, but we’ve never developed a full-blown comprehensive plan.”
Separating storm water from sewage water before it reaches the city sewage plant is going to save the city a substantial amount of money because it will no longer treat water that doesn’t need to be treated – i.e. storm water, McCauley said.
“Separating surface water from sewage water is going to save us tens of thousands of dollars a year in not treating water that we don’t have to treat,” McCauley said. “In a perfect world, we would never treat a drop of surface (storm water) water at our sewer plant. It costs money to treat every gallon of surface water (storm water). I think this is a big step forward. I think this is the right step.”
Councilman Robbie Skinner made a motion to approve the ordinance on first reading, which was seconded by councilwoman Pam Cuppari.
Councilman David Thomas asked McCauley whether the ordinance was the result of new federal rules and regulations.
McCauley replied, “They haven’t come down the pike yet, but we are being proactive in anticipation that two or three years from now it will impact us and it lets us plan ahead.”
Thomas also asked, “What are the ramifications in regards to the storm drain problems beyond the city limits?”
McCauley said it’s possible that people outside the city limits may have to pay fees set by the city sanitary board and city council if they live in the water drainage shed.
“Similar to the fire department and the first due area, we establish a water drainage shed that is based upon engineering survey studies and if fees were to be imposed by the sanitary board, and they would have to be approved by this city council by ordinance, it is conceivable that people outside the corporate limits would be required to pay that fee,” the mayor said.
Thomas said he wanted residents to be aware of that possibility.
McCauley said that the current ordinance before city council does not establish any fees, but simply authorizes the creation of the storm water system.
“This ordinance does not do that, but let’s face facts – if we’re going to undertake this the way it needs to be done, we’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to pay for it,” McCauley said. “The entire purpose of this ordinance is to better alleviate storm water, to get it more quickly out of our corporate limits into the Buckhannon River.”
O’Neill reiterated that Ordinance 415 does not implement any fees.
“I think it’s important to clarify that this ordinance does not define or set any rate; it merely empowers the sanitary board to recommend a rate structure to the council for its consideration and potential adoption,” the city attorney said. “This ordinance does not establish or define how rates are counted.”
The ordinance passed unanimously on first reading.
McCauley said the system will be constructed over a five- to 10-year period at an estimated cost of approximately $125,000 to $150,000 per year.
In other news, council also approved Ordinance 414 on second and final reading. This measure will allow the city to apply to the state Municipal Home Rule Board for permission to adopt the Brunch Bill within city limits. The Brunch Bill would adjust the time alcohol sales at sit-down restaurants is permitted to be served on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 10 a.m. Councilwoman Mary Albaugh made a motion to pass the ordinance, which was seconded by Skinner. The ordinance passed 6-1, with Cuppari dissenting.
“I still think it’s a slap in the face for the people in the whole county who were able to vote,” Cuppari said.