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Study shows how city-parish planned to get property owners to pay for controversial Stormwater Utility Fee

2 months 3 weeks 4 days ago Thursday, November 03 2022 Nov 3, 2022 November 03, 2022 10:38 PM November 03, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - Before the Stormwater Utility Fee was introduced to the public, the city-parish was trying to figure out how to get people to pay for it, since we were told the feds were forcing the local government to fix a crisis with the stormwater system.

"The alternative is costly federal enforcement action," Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said.

Now, we're getting a look at a study done by Black & Veatch that provided options and data about how to make you, the property owner, pay up.

One of the options was to include the fee on your water bill. Then, there'd be a way to enforce — by shutting off your water.

"We could have stood up our own payment system, but that would have been extremely costly," said Kelvin Hill, former Assistant Chief Administrative Officer of the Baton Rouge mayor's office.

That option would be a stand-alone bill, administered by the city-parish, that could have used the water shutoff enforcement mechanism to handle delinquent payments. Even the study said customers might perceive the fee as a tax.

Before landing on the property tax bill option, Black & Veatch took a survey. 66% of participants were in favor of a flat fee, while only 12% thought the fee should be individually calculated, as it was originally presented.

"This is not the first time we've presented this plan... We have been having conversations with homeowner groups, business groups and other groups like that about how this will impact them," said Mark Armstrong with the mayor's office.

It also could have cost property owners more — almost a dollar more per 500 square feet every month. In the original plan, residential property payments were tiered. Other properties would be calculated individually.

In the final draft of the plan, every property would be calculated the same.

The survey was compiled on June 22, 2022, less than a month after the Stormwater Utility Systems legislation was signed into law by the governor.

Wednesday night, State Representative Rick Edmonds said it was never their intention for local municipalities to impose a tax without taking a vote.

"It's got to go to a vote of the people. We do not want some sort of exorbitant tax or fee to go on our churches and businesses and people. That was never supposed to happen," Edmonds said.

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