Reasons the Storm Water Utility was Created
Laying the Groundwork
- Develop a comprehensive approach to managing increasing storm water drainage and water quality problems caused by rapid urban and suburban growth
- Provide a dedicated revenue source to address pollution, erosion and flooding caused by storm water runoff
- Establish a user fee that bills customers based on the runoff they produce
- Meet requirements of NPDES permits
- Assess costs in accordance with contribution to the problems
A consultant began studying the effectiveness of the City of Charlotte's drainage programs 1985. This began a seven year process of studies, task forces, and public meetings that resulted in the creation of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services.
In the mid to late 1980's, staff and study groups analyzed the need for a local storm water utility. Early discussions centered on flooding and drainage but later evolved to also include surface water quality. In 1989, elected officials from the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County jointly approved the concept of creating a stormwater utility.
The initiative to establish a stormwater utility gained momentum with two significant policy changes: Federal EPA/NPDES Phase I storm water regulations that took effect in 1990 and action by the North Carolina Legislature in 1991 giving municipalities the authority to create storm water utilities funded by user fees. Once the foundation was in place to create a storm water utility, the focus shifted to fee structure, organizational structure, and winning public support.
Developing an Action Plan
A 1991 telephone survey of Charlotte residents found that 96% said they believed protecting water quality should be a high priority. Nearly 80% agreed that drainage problems result in hazardous driving conditions during heavy rain. 18% said they had drainage problems on their own property. Half of those questioned said they would be willing to pay $3.00 per month to address storm water issues.
In 1991, the Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners created a citizen's Task Force to develop a comprehensive storm water management program. Private engineering firms were hired to determine the extent of existing drainage problems, develop a storm water master plan, conduct drainage system inventories, conduct a very detailed cost of service and program planning studies, and design a public information plan. Initial planning also included reports on database and billing system development, fee schedule studies, and technical reviews.
Before the 1992 City Council vote creating the storm water utility, City and County staff activated a multi-faceted public awareness campaign. This involved a speakers' bureau, workshops for the public and news media, brochures, fliers, and monthly newsletters. The goal was to explain the need for the utility, create awareness of storm water problems, describe solutions to those problems, and educate people about the storm water fee.
When the City Council held an official public hearing in May 1992 on the storm water fees, only ten people spoke. Likewise, only a handful of citizens raised questions or concerns when the Mecklenburg County Commission held a public hearing in 1993 before it approved storm water fees.