|Stormwater fee vote draws crowd
Lenoir City Council passed the second of three attempts Monday to authorize a stormwater utility fee requiring residential and business property owners to pay a monthly charge for water runoff.
Representatives from businesses, churches, schools and the community attended a Monday afternoon called council meeting to express concerns about the proposed fee.
Lenoir City has been part of National Pollution Discharge Elimination System’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System program since about 2008 or 2009.
State and federal government call for cities to fund the program,
but they do not provide suggestions on how to do so. For years the
city has absorbed costs, City Administrator Amber Scott said.
“I don’t think there’s a member of city council that enjoys implementing this type of fee, but unfortunately it’s something that we must do if we want to continue to fall under guidelines that (the state) has put out and set forth,” Mayor Tony Aikens said.
The stormwater utility fee is $3 monthly for a single-family residence, but for businesses the calculations are based off an Equivalent Residential Unit tier system ranging from zero to 5,000 square feet of impervious area costing $25 up to 2 million-plus square feet being $3,000.
Lenoir City Stormwater Manager Greg Buckner said 90 percent of businesses fall within the first two tiers of 0-5,000 and 5,001-35,000 square feet, with the second tier paying $50.
The Rev. Ernie Varner, pastor of Sixth Avenue Church of God, called the fee “unfair” and penalizes churches. He said the fee could hit his church “very hard.”
“I mean maybe $300-$400 a month,” Varner said. “Well you think, ‘Well that’s not a lot,’ but in a year’s time and it’s $400 a month, that’s almost $5,000. That’s hard on the church, and we’re one of the larger churches compared to a lot of churches in town, and I was just wanting to know if there’s some way for some kind of exemption to be made for churches. I mean that’s money we could hire a part-time staff position.”
The Rev. Ron Jordan of First Baptist Church in Lenoir City spoke on behalf of smaller churches. He estimated the city has 20-25 churches inside its limits.
“I would just like to say to you that Matlock Tire and Walmart and others, they can increase their rate, but I don’t have the luxury of increasing the tithe that’s just biblical and I can’t do anything about that, God set that in motion a long time ago,” Jordan said. “I would just ask for consideration for nonprofits and the churches as others have asked and will ask in this meeting.”
Lenoir City Schools Superintendent Jeanne Barker echoed Jordan, asking for the city to consider exempting schools.
Current law does not exempt churches, schools or nonprofit organizations, Aikens said. He urged the community to talk to their representatives to try to make a difference.
“This is a fee, and I know you can twist it and make it anything,” Councilman Eddie Simpson said. “Our utility bill could be a tax if we wanted to call it that, I guess, but this is a fee, it’s not a tax. Our water bill’s not a tax, and this stormwater fee is not a tax. Mr. (Van) Shaver can call it a tax all day, I know.
That brings a negative shadow into everything we try to do, but all I ask for the people to be patient and think back 15 years we haven’t had an increase in tax or fees almost nothing for the past 15 years, and I think that says a lot about our city and how we’re managing the taxpayers’ money.”
Simpson and Councilwoman Jennifer Wampler motioned and seconded, respectively, and the vote passed 6-0. The third and final reading will be at 7 p.m. June 26 at city hall.
If the third reading passes, the fee would go into affect July 1, Buckner said.
In other news, Lenoir City Council:
• Approved the second of three readings for the city’s budget at about $10.1 million.
• Gave the go-ahead on the second of three readings for Lenoir City Board of Education’s budget in the General Purpose Fund, Sales Tax Fund, Federal Projects Fund and Food Service Fund at about $20.4 million.
• Passed the property tax for the coming year.
• Amended Sections 8-101 and 8-206 of the Lenoir City Municipal Code defining alcoholic beverages and beer to reflect current state law. Both were second readings. Council also passed the second reading to impose and collect an inspection fee concerning alcoholic beverages.
• Passed the second reading to rezone 705 Bon St., from C-3 Highway Commercial District to R-3 Highway Density Residential District.
• Amended establishing a four-way stop at the intersection of G Street and 7th Avenue to G Street and 6th Avenue.
• Authorized a one-time additional contribution to the Loudon County Economic Development Agency for fiscal year 2017-18 of $35,295, which Scott said is $2,502 more than the city normally gives.
• Passed the tentative award to Haren Construction Company Inc., at $2.42 million for the main pump station No. 1 replacement project.
• Agreed to close a block of Bell Avenue for Bell Avenue Baptist Church’s Vacation Bible School, which runs 6-8:30 p.m. June 26-30.
• Awarded Volunteer Turf a bid of $8,200 for 52 pallets of sod for Central Park. The city will also install posts at Central Park fence from Barger and Sons Inc., at $3,600.
• Will accept bids for a vehicle for the city street department.