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Business and the Economy
News covering policy and issues related to city and county governments in the Ozarks.

How Springfield, Greene County Aim to Fund Stormwater Mandates

Doling_park.JPG
City of Springfield
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The parks/stormwater sales tax sunset in 2012, leaving a gap in stormwater funding. Renewing the tax, which provided funding for water quality projects like at Doling Park (pictured), is one option before officials.

Officials from Springfield and Greene County examined various sales tax and fee options Tuesday as a potential solution to address stormwater funding shortages. 

The topic of the council’s weekly lunch meeting came on the heels of a December report by the Joint City-County Planning Task Force that said stormwater is one of three major issues facing both entities that require immediate action.

The Challenge

With the Environmental Protection Agency stepping up enforcement of policies like the Clean Air Act, communities are forced to identify revenue streams to keep up. In Springfield/Greene County, the recent sunset of its 1/8 cent parks-stormwater sales tax has puts its ability to stay in compliance in question.

“We’ve taken a look at what’s coming from EPA and DNR to the city, to the county, to City Utilities. You tally that all up, over the next 15-20 years it’s $1.6 billion dollars, with a ‘b,’ and when you look at that you say, ‘How could we possibly afford $1.6 billion dollars of new mandates when we have all these other needs in our community?’” said Springfield City Manager Greg Burris, speaking to KSMU Thursday. Hear the full conversation above.

In response, all three entities have been working to reduce this figure through what it says is a first of its kind Integrated Plan for the Environment in the country. The plan addresses wastewater, stormwater, drinking water, air quality and solid waste all at once, and it has received written endorsement from both the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the EPA Region 7.

Paul Calamita is chairman of AquaLaw, a firm that focuses on litigation regarding the Clean Water Act. He spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.

“What they [regulators] are looking for you to do is best management practices to the maximum extent practicable. Practicability has a financial component,” Calamita said.

Calamita pointed to management practices such as code changes, rain gardens, and green roofs, among others.

The Options

On the wastewater side, the city recently submitted an overflow control plan to DNR outlining proposed investments in the local sewer system totaling $200 million over 10 years.

Burris says, “Springfield’s overflow control plan would normally be between $400 million to $600 million. The one that we’ve put together, using the Integrated Planning approach, is $200 million."

Burris said the city was expecting to hear back from DNR by Jan. 31. They hope to have a response soon. If approved, he says Springfield citizens “will get off much cheaper than most other community’s around the country that are facing the same thing.”

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A slide from Tuesday's presentation to city and county officials outlines 10 options to fund stormwater projects.

On the stormwater side, city and county officials are pursuing various funding options, which stem from recommendations outlined by the Citizens Stormwater Task Force. Created in 2012, the task force issued a report the following year, and set what it believed to be an obtainable annual funding figure of $11.3 million. These funds would cover operations and permit compliance costs, infrastructure replacement and address high-quality flood control measures.

On Tuesday, 10 options were presented to officials as ways to create funding to get within reach of that $11.3 million benchmark, ranging from sales taxes, sewer rate increases to general fund cuts.

“This is what the Citizens Stormwater Task Force recommended,” Burris said, eluding to one of the 10 options. “This was a combination of a 1/8 cent [sales tax]….and then you’d have the 1/10 cent for your ongoing operations and compliance.”

The 1/8 cent parks/stormwater sales tax would cover capital needs, such as flooding and infrastructure. It would require voter approval and would be allowed to sunset after seven years. The 1/10 cent, Burris said, is a continual tax made available to governmental entities by the Missouri Legislature. On an annual basis, the two sales taxes are projected to bring in $9.1 million.

Other options presented Tuesday include (Annual revenue generated):

  • 1/4 cent countywide parks/stormwater sales tax ($5.1 million)
  • 1/10 cent countywide stormwater sales tax ($4 million)
  • Countywide general fund sales tax ($5.1 million)
  • Countywide property tax ($ 4 million)
  • Stormwater user fee ($3.9 million)
  • Cleanwater utility ($1.4 million)
  • General fund cuts (($1.7 million)
  • Federal/state grants (?)
  • No action (?)

The remaining funds would come from current stormwater investments being made by the city to cover the annual $11.3 million benchmark. All tax options are countywide, given the city has promised no new sales taxes until after the police-fire pension sales tax sunsets in 2020.
The Next Step

Mayor Bob Stephens has asked city and county elected officials to send Burris the list of options they’d like to explore further. Both entities would eventually need to vote on which option they think is the best, which is likely to require voter approval in an upcoming election.

Ultimately, regulatory officials will need to sign off on the plan. Officials are optimistic considering the support it’s received from its Integrated Plan.

“With those kind of approaches, whether it’s wastewater or in this case stormwater, what we’re doing is trying to figure out what’s the biggest bang for our buck and how can we do it in the smartest way that really minimizes the amount of money that our citizens have to pay toward these things but still protects our environment,” Burris said.

Burris believes Springfield/Greene County is the first to attempt this Integrated Plan because “a lot of cities don’t see this wave coming” and haven’t calculated the costs the same way.

Burris echoed Paul Calamita in stating that doing nothing costs more in the long run.

“You get a combination of a fine from EPA, and also then EPA comes in and says ‘We’re gonna tell you how you’re gonna do it.’ We sort of lose control of our own destiny. We no longer get to decide how we would implement these things. EPA will come in and do that and it will cost us more.”

Follow Scott Harvey on Twitter: @scottksmu

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