DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County Commission is considering raising the stormwater utility fee for residents for 2023-2025. The board deferred the vote during its regular meeting on Tuesday, May 9.
The commission will discuss the fee at its next committee of the whole meeting, which is scheduled for May 16.
The residential stormwater utility fee is currently $4 per residential unit. If the proposed increase is approved, the fee will increase to $8 per month in 2023, $9 per month in 2024, and $10 per month in 2025 and for subsequent years.
The county has not increased the stormwater utility fees since 2004. The utility was created in 2003 and became operational in 2004.
“It has been almost 20 years since we’ve had a stormwater rate increase, so this is not an option,” Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson said. “It is now absolutely necessary due to the cost associated with the program. However, I want everyone to be comfortable with what is happening here. I believe that before we move the item forward officially, we should have a conversation in committee as to the rollout so that the public is completely engaged and aware.”
Some of the county’s stormwater infrastructure includes many retention ponds, catch basins, storm drain pipes, ditches, culverts, headwalls, and outfalls.
“To me, it is not apparent that this fee increase will be enough to handle that entire load, but this is a good start,” Commissioner Ted Terry said. “It’s a good movement in the direction of clearing the many, many years of backlogs.”
The county needs help when it comes to stormwater infrastructure, Presiding Officer Robert Patrick added.
DeKalb’s public works and infrastructure committee recommended approval of the agenda item with a 2-1 vote on May 2. Terry voted no. Terry, Cochran-Johnson and Patrick are on the PWI committee.
Some concerns have been raised about making sure the community has an opportunity to learn more about the increase. In an email to other commissioners dated May 4, Terry said he asked for a two-week deferral to better inform the public.
“Regardless of how many discussions were had at PWI on this issue, no one from the public were in attendance at these meetings, and no other commissioners were at those meetings,” he said. “The public now knows about this agenda item simply because it was put on the agenda Tuesday, by the CEO.”
Terry added the increases could lead to sticker shock for some customers.
“Some of our largest payees of these fees are schools and churches,” Terry wrote. “And those institutions know nothing about this… but they will find out pretty quickly once they get a surprise in their tax bill mailing later this summer, amounting to thousands of dollars in unplanned for fees that will now have to be addressed mid-way through their budget years.”
DeKalb Public Works Director Richard Lemke said during the May 2 PWI committee meeting that prices have increased over the last 20 years, and the county has had a decreasing ability to maintain the stormwater system.
“We’ve got infrastructure that’s failing simply due to age,” Lemke said. “What we’re trying to do is accommodate the needs of the system and of the infrastructure and our ability to provide the maintenance that this county so badly needs on that infrastructure.”
The increased fee would allow the county to hire additional crews to perform stormwater work, such as pipe and pond maintenance.
“It is a critical item for us,” Lemke said.