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Red Wing storm water fee to be discussed

Red Wing City officials are considering a new fee to pay for the city's storm-water management.

A storm-water utility fee, city officials say, would create a steady stream of cash to fund improvements to the city's storm-water infrastructure and buy new equipment.

Both equipment and infrastructure upgrades are needed to meet state and federal environmental regulations, which will likely only become more stringent in the future, city officials said.

The city plans an open house to discuss the proposal with the public at 7 p.m. today at Red Wing City Hall.

"Cities are required more and more to do a better job of managing their storm water," said Denny Tebbe, Red Wing Public Works department special project coordinator.

Storm water has become an environmental concern because it can be the source of pollution for lakes and rivers. When rainwater runs off driveways, streets, roofs and parking lots, it can pick up debris, chemicals, and other pollutants before it reaches lakes and rivers, according to the Environmental Pollution ??? Agency.

Federal and state regulations require cities to manage their storm water, for example, by sweeping streets.

"One way or another, these things have to get done," Tebbe said. "What's the best way to do it?"

There is consensus among many city officials that a fee is the best way to fund storm-water management.

Tebbe, Planning Director Brian Peterson and Director of Engineering Ron Rosenthal have created a basic proposal for implementing the fee. The department heads said their proposal is not a finished product, but a starting point for the City Council.

Currently, storm-water management costs are paid with money taken from the city's general fund, which is money levied from property taxes.

The department heads say a fee is more equitable because it is based on how much impervious surface a property has. Large commercial properties with parking lots would pay more than a single-family home. And tax-exempt properties such as schools, government buildings and churches would also be charged.

Under the initial proposal, Peterson said a single-family home would pay $48 a year in storm-water utility fees. The fees would vary for other types of residential and commercial properties.

In total, the fee could add $600,000 annually to city coffers.

City officials said having a consistent cash flow might help them save money by making it easier to apply for matching state and federal grants.

When money used to pay for storm-water costs is pulled from the city's general fund, it is not always available when grant applications are accepted, Tebbe said.

The state authorized municipalities to develop storm-water utilities in 1983. Peterson said 130 communities have storm-water utility fees in Minnesota.