Originally created 10/01/97

Columbia officials seek assist for stormwater utility

Columbia County may recruit legal and engineering assistance from city officials in Griffin, Ga., to help establish a stormwater utility to bill property owners for costs of flood control improvements.

"It appears this process is more complex than we first realized," Columbia County Commission Chairman Pete Brodie said. "The idea is to ask Griffin to associate with us to guide through this process."

Although about 20 states have stormwater utilities, Griffin is Georgia's only community with such a taxation authority. Columbia County would become the second with an operating utility in 1998.

Consultants studying the county's Reed Creek Basin - which flows through heavily developed Martinez, including West Lake - have recommended more than $21 million in needed stormwater improvements.

Those improvements were made necessary by extensive development over the past 30 years without associated investments in infrastructure and drainage improvements to divert and control stormwater.

Now it's time to play catch-up and residents will help pay.

Proposals include a 4,000-foot canal near Stevens Creek Road, retention ponds, bridges, culverts and the dredging, widening and deepening of channels. Some improvements could double as public recreation facilities.

Commissioners have proposed a stormwater utility agency to float bonds to finance the costly improvements and charge county residents a monthly sum. Those collections would be used to make payments on the bonds.

Columbia County Attorney Doug Batchelor has been asked to work with Griffin officials to recruit their expertise, Mr. Brodie said.

"In conversation with their city attorney last week, they began going over legal issues that surround how it's set up, how to determine a fee structure," Mr. Brodie said. It's very complex."

It's too early to determine how much residents would pay each month. But the concept is to levy fees on a variable scale, Mr. Brodie said.

"I'd envision a rate structure that would impact commercial and industrial areas a little more heavily than residential properties," he said. "We'd also like to look at two fee structures - urban and rural. Rural should not pay at same level as those in urbanized areas."


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