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State may open door for storm system fees
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The California Legislature set the stage Thursday for Manteca, Ripon, Lathrop and San Joaquin County as well as other local jurisdictions throughout the state to impose fees for storm water management systems without voter approval.
If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the measure that passed the legislature, it would become legal for cities and counties to charge residents to build storm water control facilities as well as maintain them.
It would allow the fee to be assessed much like fees for water, sewer, and solid waste collection that cities impose under the perimeters of Proposition 218 that was approved by voters in 1996. Those fees require a protest hearing. If 25 percent of the impacted ratepayers don’t submit protests, there is no need for an election and the council decides whether to impose a rate hike.
Manteca from 1989 up until 2001 had a $2.35 per month tax on city utilities in place with the expressed purpose of paying for storm water control improvements and maintenance.

Manteca residents
received a tax cut in 2001
The City Council in 2001 – under the leadership of then Mayor Carlon Perry – opted to drop the $2.35 a month municipal utility tax on garbage, sewer, and water bills.
That ended up reducing general fund revenue by $690,000 for 2002. It cost the general fund at the time $1.4 million in refunds they made to ratepayers. If the tax were in place today, it would generate in excess of $1 million annually.
The tax was repealed after the legality of the utility users’ tax was questioned. It was adopted on Nov. 20, 1989 as a way to fund storm drainage system improvements and maintenance to alleviate street flooding, particularly in the downtown district.
The tax was legal when it was adopted but shifting court opinions determined such taxes needed to be put to the vote of the people when everyone had to pay it and it wasn’t for a specific service such as water or sewer where fees could be adopted by council votes.
Most other cities when faced with a new court ruling simply opted to take their case to the voters to have them reaffirm the legality of the tax by voting it back in. Other cities opted to wait and see and still have the taxes in place today as they were never challenged.
Manteca’s council went directly to declaring it illegal and ordering refunds.
Critics blamed the council at the time for caving in to concerns of a lawsuit and not asking voters to decide whether to retain the tax.
The issue of funding storm drain improvements has not been addressed in the last 16 years meaning that the storm maintenance and upgrade of the existing system is a drain on the general fund budget. It is costing at least $500,000 for the city to oversee the system and perform federal and state required mandates. Manteca and other jurisdiction are under new direction from state and federal levels to reduce or eliminate runoff from new development. The $500,000 figure doesn’t include time spent by the streets crews on storm system issues. Manteca does not have a dedicated storm maintenance staff per se.

Manteca hasn’t set
aide money per se to
replace aging storm
system equipment
The city also has not set aside money specifically to replace the numerous pumps when they ultimately fail or for other capital improvement work that may be needed to cover expected wear and tear on the system.
Eight years ago in a report to the City Council, Public Works Director Mark Houghton noted Manteca had “been very fortunate. We have a fairly good system in place but some of it is aging.”
Aging equipment includes pumps – critical to the flow of water – that wear out as well as some storm pipes that are either inadequate or have pipes with issues.
The system works by tying a series of storm retention basins together through pipes. The basins serve as reservoirs during heavy periods of rainfall filling with water. Pumps are then reversed as the storm drain system has capacity to receive more water and the basins are lowered.
The entire system is made possible through an interconnect with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District canals that they take the runoff to the French Camp Slough then to the San Joaquin River.
 City operating standards call for a water discharge rate of 96 hours from storm retention basins. That represents the longest accepted maximum time that water would sit in a retention basin before it is released into a series of underground pipes and eventually into the San Joaquin River.
Currently, it is rare for water to stand in any retention basin more than 24 hours.

Taxpayers group says bill
subverts the will of voters
California law subjects local fees and taxes to voter approval, but exempts charges related to “sewer, water, and refuse collection services” so communities can charge residents for facilities like sewage treatment plants without a vote.
Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association, said the bill subverts the will of Californians who passed the proposition in 1996 requiring votes on taxes and fees.
“It’s a direct contravention to Proposition 218, the right to vote on taxes,” he said. “It would deprive California voters and property owners of the ability to have a say (on) storm water runoff fees.”
The bill squeaked out of the Assembly with the minimum 41 votes it needed to pass. Assemblywoman  Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and the bill’s author Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat from Van Nuys, rushed around the Assembly floor persuading hesitant members to support the bill for several minutes as votes were tallied.
Gonzalez Fletcher said if had San Jose had a funding source for enhanced  infrastructure it could have protected against the flooding in San Jose earlier this year that caused an estimated $73 million in damage. The San Diego Democrat said the measure clarifies that the definition of sewer water includes rain runoff
The Associated Press contributed to the story.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail