Renters’ drainage fees could decline. But homeowners’ fees would rise in city’s first estimates from plan.
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Austin apartment and condo residents could see their monthly city drainage fees lowered by about $3 on average this fall.
But the typical homeowner’s fee could go up a couple of bucks to $12.10.
Those are the first city estimates showing how retooling the drainage fee, which was declared invalid by a judge in 2014, could affect residents’ pocketbooks. The judge sided with tenants who sued and argued that those living in smaller apartments were in many cases unfairly paying the same drainage fee as those living in larger single-family homes.
City officials now want to scrap the current flat monthly fee of $9.80 charged to most residential customers and the $4.90 residents of apartments or condo buildings seven or more stories high pay.
Instead, the drainage fees would be individually calculated, based on a property’s total impervious cover — areas that are paved or developed — and the percentage of the parcel that is impervious cover. The idea is that calculation would be more fair because the more impervious cover is on a property, the more water is funneled into the city’s drainage system.
In a recent memo, the city’s Watershed Protection Department laid out estimates of what Austin residents could pay under the new fee structure. The estimated fees would generate the same net revenue — about $77 million
— that the current drainage fee will add to city coffers this fiscal year.
If approved by the City Council, actual fees could differ from those estimates, depending on expenses. The drainage fee pays for most of the city’s watershed protection operations, such as maintenance of the drainage system, and for large projects, such as buying out flood-prone homes.
Most single-family homeowners would see an increase in the drainage fee. Those with more than 4,000 square feet of impervious cover on their lots could see their fees more than double to an average of $20.
Homeowners with less than 3,000 square feet of impervious cover could see lower charges than they currently pay. For instance, those with 2,000 to 3,000 square feet of impervious cover could pay an average of $8.70.
The biggest breaks would go to apartment and condo dwellers. On the whole, residents of multifamily properties would provide 18 percent of the city’s total drainage fee revenue, instead of the 27 percent they currently contribute.
Those in midrise or high-rise apartments and condos could see their drainage fees reduced to an average of $1.90. Res idents of buildings less than seven stories high could see their fees lowered to $6.30. Rather than billing tenants directly, the city is considering billing property owners or managers who would then split up the charge among their tenants.
Property owners and managers could recover increases in utility costs by raising rent or by billing residents on a monthly basis either through a third-party agent or on their own, city Watershed Protection spokeswoman Lynne Lightsey said. Owners and managers also could split the charge into equal shares or divide in other ways, such as by unit size, she said.
City ordinance prohibits owners and managers from making a profit through billing residents for utility services, Lightsey said.
While Mayor Steve Adler has championed a 20 percent homestead exemption as a way to make the city more affordable for homeowners, he’s pointed at the drainage fee as a way to make the city more affordable for renters.
But Brennan Griffin, a board member with the nonprofit AURA, said the proposed change to the drainage fee is insignificant. AURA began in 2013 as Austinites for Urban Rail Action.
The Austin City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed changes to the drainage fee at its May 21 meeting at City Hall.
from Austin Statesman.