Filing an Appeal of Your Stormwater Utility Fee

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After the fee for the new stormwater utility began appearing on residents’ water bills in April, a number of people had questions about how and why they were assessed the amount they were and how they could go about requesting an appeal of that amount. This week, we met with Pat Harper of Beach Water and she walked us through the process of what happens when someone files an appeal.

“First, I sit down with them, and look up their address on leepa.org,” Pat said. “From there, we can see a birdseye view of their house and – using a measuring tool available on the site – I can get a rough estimate of how many square feet of impervious surface that property has. Note that the definition of impervious surface includes swimming pools and driveways.”

Harper showed us two documents entitled ‘Stormwater Utility – Frequently Asked Questions’, one in the form of a flyer and the other a colorful multi-page booklet complete with images, that she hands to people who have questions about their fee. The documents go into detail explaining what a watershed is and the definition of pervious and impervious surfaces:

‘impervious’ – a human-made surface compacted or covered with material resistant to infiltration by water and impeding or restricting percolation of surface water into the soil. Includes roofs, sidewalks, patios, graveled graded or compacted surfaces, porches and semi-impervious areas such as compacted clay.

‘pervious’ – a surface which allows downward filtration or percolation of water into soil or surfaces including sand, grass, shell and naturally wooded/grassy landscapes.

Both documents – which are available at Town Hall – also explain the need for a stormwater utility, how the current system needs to be upgraded and fixed, how nutrient-polluted stormwater runoff effects Estero Bay and more.

To answer the question of ‘How Are the Fees Determined?’, the documents explain that an ‘Equivalent Residential Unit’ (ESU) of 4,414 square feet of impervious surface was determined by the Town’s contractor as a base unit of measurement.

“This is based on the statistical average sized single family home,” Harper said. “So – and anyone can do this – we go into leepa.org, select ‘real property search’, input the address then select ‘aerial view’, we get a birdseye view of the property. From that, go to ‘tools’ in the upper left-hand corner, click on the measuring tape icon and ‘draw’ a line around the property – be careful to include pools and driveways – to get a rough estimate of the total impervious surface.”

During our interview, we selected a sample address and the measurement came to 1,771 square feet, so Pat divided 4,414 by 1,771 to come up with .40 – meaning this property is in the ‘small’ residential tier and will pay .66 of the per-ESU fee of $19.98. Another property came in at 5,500 square feet of impervious surface, placing that one in the ‘large’ tier or 1.50 ESU’s.

For condominiums, the total area of the complex is measured and divided by one ERU then divided by the total number of parcels.

“Once this is explained, should they still want to file an appeal, we give them a ‘Stormwater Petition Form’ – available at Town Hall or online – to fill out,” Harper said. “It’s easy to understand, and people don’t have to make it labor intensive – just be sure to include all pertinent documents and a summary of the asserted error or basis for exemption.”

Once the form is filled and the necessary documents attached, simply drop it off at Town Hall where someone will date stamp and then file it.

“From that point, the Town has 90 working days to reassess the property,” Harper said. “The Town’s contractor will reevaluate the property, look at the plans, any and all permits issued by the South Florida Water Management District – who governs individual stormwater permitting – and whatever else they need to. Once a decision is rendered, we mail it to the property owner.”

Harper told us that – if it is determined that the property was paying too high of a rate – a credit will be issued immediately for what has already been paid.

“We try to make it as friendly as possible – we even allow people to appeal the second determination,” Pat said. “But keep in mind this could work the other way too – a couple of times it was determined that the property wasn’t paying enough. We preach and practice fairness – not favorites – to solving a problem that’s island-wide.”

Harper told us that – as of press time – 39 petitions had been filed, and ‘most of them’ have been addressed.

For more information, stop by Town Hall or go to their website. Under ‘Your Government’, select ‘Departments’ then ‘Public Works’. Click on ‘Stormwater Management’ to see a complete history of the Town’s stormwater utility, the abovementioned FAQ’s, the appeal petition and a ‘property lookup’ to see what fee each property on the island was assessed.

 

Keri Hendry Weeg