As with other municipal services, the City has to raise funds from residents and property owners to pay for stormwater infrastructure and services through one of the available funding mechanisms. There are two primary ways for the City to fund services: taxes and user fees/benefit assessments.
Before the stormwater fee was established in 2014, stormwater services were funded by property taxes. Property taxes in the City are based on the value of a property as assessed by the Tompkins County Department of Assessment, which does not accurately reflect how much stormwater is generated by a property. Further, when stormwater is funded out of taxes, the many tax-exempt property owners in the City do not contribute toward the cost required to handle the stormwater flowing off of their properties.
In 2013, Mayor Svante Myrick established a task force to examine whether a funding mechanism other than property taxes would be appropriate for the City’s stormwater expenses. In particular, the Mayor was interested in a new funding mechanism that: improved incentives for reducing stormwater runoff from each property; shared the cost burden of stormwater services and infrastructure in proportion to each property’s contribution to the need for it; included tax-exempt property owners; and was dedicated to current and future maintenance and regulatory obligations.
The stormwater user fee meets all of these goals. It allows the City to bill each property (including those owned by tax-exempt entities) based on the amount of runoff it creates. By including more properties in the funding, the amount paid for stormwater infrastructure and services by the average residential property owner is being cut roughly in half in 2015, to under $50 per year. The fee also encourages property owners to reduce the amount of impervious surface area on their properties, which reduces the amount of stormwater runoff. Finally, because the user fees are placed into a separate account, the fee provides a dedicated funding source for these costs that is not affected by the overall economy.