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How the Utility and Fee Were Established

City of Charlotte—Storm water utility began operating on January 1, 1993. It is funded with a storm water fee based on property's impervious surface. 

Mecklenburg County—Storm water utility began operating on January 1, 1994. It is funded with a separate storm water fee based on property's impervious surface. The City and County operate a coordinated utility without duplication of services. 

Seven Interlocal Agreements were drawn up among the County, City of Charlotte, and six surrounding Towns. The Interlocal Agreements are to comply with State statutes requiring a "single storm water system." The Agreements define the roles and responsibilities of the County and municipalities in providing storm water services and assessing fees.

Before the Storm Water Utility

The importance of managing storm water runoff has long been recognized in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. In 1911, legislation was approved to create the Mecklenburg County Drainage Commission.

For the first 80 years, storm drainage infrastructure costs were included in the general budget funded by property taxes. Large projects were funded by voter-approved municipal bonds. Emergency repairs to the public drainage system came from the City's or County's general fund.
Aerial photo of creek, park and skyline
Little Sugar Creek winds through Freedom Park
with Charlotte's skyline in the background
Reasons the Storm Water Utility was Created 

  • 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
Laying the Groundwork
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. 

Public Reaction
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.

Employee reviewing plans

One Utility or Two?
The City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County provide a fully-coordinated storm water management program. Interlocal Agreements outline the distinct roles and responsibilities of the County, the City and the six Towns.

The County is responsible for the Major System. That is defined as streams having a watershed of greater than one square mile.

The City of Charlotte and six surrounding towns are responsible for the Minor Systems. That's defined as streams and manmade drainage systems with a watershed of less than one square mile within each jurisdiction. The Board of County Commissioners must approve any fee increases to fund a municipality's Minor System.

The utility has a joint name: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services. There is a single billing system, one logo, and a unified public education effort. Differing local ordinances were revised to be more consistent. One countywide citizens' advisory panel was created to guide public policy on storm water issues in various jurisdictions within Mecklenburg County.

By coordinating efforts, the utility seeks to reduce duplication of services and provide seamless customer service. This arrangement complies with State law requiring the "operations of a single storm water system in Mecklenburg County."

The single utility is operated by two separate agencies with separate budgets, functions, and management. See the organizational chart. Capital improvement costs are higher inside the Charlotte City limits, so the City's storm water fees are higher. See the storm water fee schedule.

For more information, contact City of Charlotte Storm Water Services Division Manager Jennifer G. Smith, P.E. at 704-336-7924 or Mecklenburg County Water & Land Resources Director Dave Canaan at 704-336-3736.