As many of you recover from the latest water event in El Paso, I thought I would bring you up to speed on the infamous storm water fee the city implemented in 2007. City ordinance 016668 established the Storm Water Utility under the auspices of the El Paso Water Utilities. The new utility and associated fees were the result of the 2006 storms that led to unprecedented flooding in the city. Many characterized those storms as the 100-year storm. During the various discussions about establishing the storm water utility, the notion that the city needed to prepare for another 100-year storm was argued by the supporters of the new fees. Many of the individuals opposed to the new fee argued that although there needed to be some maintenance for the storm water infrastructure of the city the proposed fees and moving the service to the Public Service Board was nothing more than another money grab by the city.
As usual, we were all labelled anti-progressives and crazies.
The last few days, the local news media and social networks have been full of flooding images in the city. As a matter of fact, various city government offices recently closed early because of the incoming storms. The inconvenient question I’m going to ask is whether the storm water fees are being prudently used by the city especially in light of the recent flooding across the city.
The storm water ordinance transferred the responsibility of managing storm water issues away from the city into the Public Service Board. Two priorities were created as a result of the 2006 storm. The PSB also adopted the Master Storm Water Management Plan. On March 1, 2008, the El Paso Water Utilities officially took over the management of storm water issues for the city.
I looked at the fiscal reports for the utility to see how much money has been collected and how much has been spent on storm water remediation.
The FY 2010-2011 report lists among its “accomplishments” that out of the 15 dams in the city, 13 were deemed as “acceptable”. The report also lists the “efficient sandbag distribution program and reduced costs” as one of its accomplishments. The report also stated that due to “federal economic stimulus” funds the utility “was able to accelerate the capital improvement program”. This was true for all subsequent reports that I saw.
You might remember that the biggest argument was that the city had neglected for many years the capital improvements needed for an adequate storm water system. In FY 2010-11, according to the utility’s report, it was accelerating some of the capital improvements. For FY 2010-11, the utility operated with a budget of $5.658 million plus an “indirect cost allocation” from support services bringing the total budget to $7 million.
Operating and maintenance took $5.6 million from that budget.
The Cebada/Magnolia system is the city’s largest drainage system according to the report. This system is responsible for handling runoff coming from the Northeast and Central areas and “must work properly in order for I-10 to remain useable during flood events”, according to the FY2010-11 report.
For FY 2011-12, the utility expected to receive $15.068 million from the storm water fees included in your monthly water bill. This figure accounted for about 26% of the monies available for storm water activities. For 2011-12, the utility was looking to spend $44.662 million for capital improvements.
In the FY2011-12 report, the utility listed as an achievement that the NE and NW infrastructure were listed as receiving “excellent evaluations”. This report also stated that the Cebada/Magnolia Phase I clearing was accomplished.
For FY2012-13, the utility estimated that it was going to receive about $15 million from the storm water fees it collects from you each month. This accounted for about 37% of the revenues budget. The utility wrote that it was going to spend $27.782 million in capital improvements for that fiscal cycle.
The FY2012-13 report lists the completion of Cebada/Magnolia clearance phase II as one of the achievements. The report also added that the utility had finalized the purchase of ten properties for storm water projects.
In the FY2013-14 report, the utility wrote that it would collect about $15.261 million from the monthly storm water fees and spend about $31.806 million in capital improvements.
According to these reports, you can see that the city’s storm water utility has estimated spending around $130 million in capital investments to shore up the storm water drainage system. The PSB has also reported collecting about $45.3 million from the storm water fees it levies on you each month.
As you look at these numbers, look around you and ask yourself, has the city properly addressed the storm water issues it set out to as a result of the 2006 storms? Keep in mind that the 2006 storms were supposed to be a 100-year storm event.
What were this week’s storm event, ten year or another 100-year event? The city has spent about $130 million plus overhead on storm water remediation. Do you really believe this has been a good expenditure of your tax dollars?