Broome proposing stormwater utility fee to address drainage maintenance

(File photo)

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome is expected to propose a stormwater utility fee at tonight’s Metro Council meeting to fund ongoing drainage maintenance and stormwater quality in Baton Rouge.

The mayor’s plan is in the early stages and will require a fee assessment study before anything definite comes together.

But Broome has floated the idea with Metro Council members in small group meetings over the past week.

The proposal comes in response to Council Member Dwight Hudson’s request that the administration provide the council with a drainage maintenance plan following opposition to his efforts to rededicate property tax millages to address the drainage upkeep problem.

As currently envisioned, the fee will need to generate an estimated $40 million a year to keep the parish’s system of culverts, canals and creeks properly draining streets and neighborhoods. The money would also go towards ensuring Baton Rouge’s stormwater quality and its plan for draining stormwater meets federal EPA standards, which has been an ongoing problem for years.

Baton Rouge has never had a recurring source of funds dedicated to drainage maintenance, one reason, critics have said, that flooding has intensified in recent years.

Broome has told council members the city-parish will need to do an independent analysis to determine how best to assess the fee and to determine, for instance, whether assessments should be based on households or square footage of properties, and what businesses should pay as compared to individual households.

“We need an independent assessment to study it, find out what our needs are and offer some solutions,” says Broome spokesman Mark Armstrong. “It’s way too soon to discuss specifics or how much a fee might be.”

The Louisiana Stormwater Coalition, a group of citizen activists formed earlier this year to combat the growing amounts of litter in the parish watershed, has been pushing the idea for a stormwater utility fee for months and has researched other communities that have them.

Some cities in Florida, for instance, impose fees as little as $8 per month, and exempt households that fall below a certain income level.

Several Metro Council members say they are glad the administration is seriously considering a long-term plan to fund drainage maintenance, adding it’s too early to weigh in on whether they would support a fee.

“I think a lot of details have to be worked out but I’m glad that the conversation will get out there for the public to start consuming,” Council member Rowdy Gaudet says.

Also tonight, the mayor will introduce her spending plan for the next round of American Rescue Plan Act money headed to Baton Rouge. Of the $73 million in the latest funding batch, Broome proposes dedicating $20 million to drainage improvements. That’s in addition to $22 million in federal pandemic relief money the administration allocated in July towards drainage projects.

“One-time money is great,” says Hudson. “But we need a long-term sustainable funding mechanism for drainage. I look forward to the mayor’s presentation.”