Proposed fee hike riles some in Morrisville

aramos@newsobserver.comMay 30, 2014 

— Some local developers and commercial landowners are upset about a proposal to increase the town’s stormwater fee, and they worry it could signal the beginning of continual fee hikes in Morrisville.

They are calling for town officials to re-evaluate long-term objectives before approving the increase as part of the 2015 budget. A public hearing for the budget has been extended until June 10.

Morrisville charges a stormwater fee of $23 a year for every 2,800 square feet of space. The current fee rate has been in place for two years.

Under the proposal, all property owners would pay $2 more for every 2,800 square feet – $25.

Dan Dzamba, owner of the Morrisville Square shopping center, said he’d like to see a decrease in the fee. He pays about $1,000 a year in stormwater fees for his 3.5 acres – a cost he passes on to his tenants.

Dzamba called the fee an extra tax the town levies against property owners.

“Basically it was 10 percent tax and now they want another,” he said. “Hold it. You really need to delve into the numbers and see what makes sense. ... (The council) needs to scrutinize what’s in this program budget.”

A fee hike sends the wrong message from elected leaders who campaigned on supporting economic development and entrepreneurs, Dzamba said.

“I hope over the next few weeks they go back to the drawing board,” he said. “For me, it’s $1,000. Look at Grace Park or Park West (Village) that are 20 times bigger. That increase is huge. This should be rolled back.”

If the stormwater fee hike is approved, Park West Village, a 100-acre shopping center, would pay hundreds of dollars more a year, said David Brunner of CASTO, the site developer.

“They just implemented it and they’re already asking for an increase,” Brunner said. “What’s the long-range plan? ... How sustainable is this?”

Raising the fee would generate about $40,000 more a year for the stormwater department. The increase would allow the town to help pay for an additional stormwater engineer – expected to cost about $90,877. The new engineer would be responsible for plan reviews.

The current stormwater fees cover about 70 percent of the cost of the department, with the rest coming from the general fund.

Morrisville approved the fee in 2012 to help pay for increased monitoring, repairs and public education requirements mandated by the Jordan Lake Rules and the federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits. The permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency regulates discharge into waterways as part of the Clean Water Act.

Two years ago, Morrisville staffers originally proposed a $45 fee for every 2,800 square feet of space, but reduced it after some pushback from council members and the Morrisville Chamber of Commerce.

The proposal galvanized the chamber into forming its development council. The chamber and the council have opposed the increase.

“We know you are trying to balance a tight budget,” said Carlotta Ungaro, executive director of the chamber. “This is one that the business community is asking that you look at and not burden them with more costs.”

Ungaro suggested the council look to the general fund or the mitigation bank for supplemental funding.

Mitigation bank money is restricted to projects that would benefit the Neuse watershed within the town limits, said Tim Gauss, director of development services.

“With the restriction on use of such funds, it is questionable whether administrative or non-capital use of funds would be permissible,” he said.

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