Dracut Board to Hear Stormwater Fee Alternatives for Upcoming Vote
DRACUT -- Town Manager Jim Duggan at Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting is set to present alternative options to a biannual fee for taxpayers as a way for Dracut to comply with new federal stormwater regulations.
After hearing negativity from many residents around a potential fee, town officials last month pushed Duggan to come up with more creative solutions. The potential stormwater fee would be used to comply with what’s known as a five-year MS4 permit. MS4 stands for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems, which are designed in part to collect or convey stormwater.
Continued discussion and vote on the stormwater fee is on Tuesday’s packed meeting agenda. Duggan on Sunday said it was a team effort with town staff to get creative and find as many possible options to present to the Board of Selectmen.
“No one in town wants it. I don’t want it. This has not been a rewarding exercise for me to go through. It’s an unfunded mandate by the federal government that’s a requirement,” Duggan said. “It’s hitting communities all over the place. We’re not the only ones. It’s something that isn’t going away any time soon, and we need to properly address it.”
According to a presentation Duggan provided to The Sun on Friday, there are six options. Below, a brief description of each:
Option 1: A flyover was conducted to accurately measure the impervious areas of each parcel in Dracut. Impervious surfaces are non-absorbent, such as rooftops, driveways and sidewalks. This option is a fee that would be calculated off the impervious area of each individual parcel in town. The average cost to the average single-family home (1-3 units) would be $66.50 for one fiscal year, according to the presentation. Duggan said he only calculated for one year because there are many unknown factors, referring to the expenses surrounding future testing and other aspects of complying with the regulations.
Option 2: A flat fee where all entities (single-family homes, commercial, industrial, exempt, businesses, and non-traditional single family homes) pay the same fee.
Option 3: A fee determined by a combination of purchasing equipment with free cash and assessing a fee on re-occurring expenses only. According to the presentation, the fees are determined by each individual parcel’s impervious area.
Option 4: A flat fee determined based on the type of property is categorized as, or how much impervious area a property has.
Option 5: A fee is not established and all stormwater activities and programs are funded through the General Fund, according to the presentation. With this option comes impact to town departments like the Police and Fire Departments, as well as the Department of Public Works. Below are some examples:
* Stop increasing the police force.
* Reduction in fire training.
* A possible downgrade in the town’s bond rating.
* Duggan said there are up to four DPW positions becoming vacant that he won’t fill immediately, but on a “sustainable basis.”
In his presentation, Duggan included a note below this option. “Historically the Town has not built budgets based on wants, it has and continues to be constructed on needs,” the note reads. “An across the board cut to all budgets is not a sustainable method to manage this unfunded mandate. If cuts to all departments were implemented, minimally staffed departments would be forced to alter hours of operation.”
And then there’s Option 6, which is non-compliance.
“We don’t want to get into the position of not being in compliance,” Duggan said. “You lose your flexibility on your operations of stormwater management.”
Selectmen Chair Jesse Forcier on Sunday said non-compliance is not an option for him.
“I commend the manager for coming up with a number of different, creative options but ultimately I don’t agree with a fee being voted on at this point,” Forcier said. “I’ll be supporting Option 5, which is no fee. As we progress through Year 2 of the stormwater compliance, I will continue to look at the sustainability of operating this stormwater management.”
Forcier said he doesn’t support the other options.
Reached by phone Sunday, DiRocco said he hadn’t seen the options. He said he’s “not in favor of a fee right now.”
Messages were left Sunday for Selectmen Vice Chair Alison Hughes and Selectmen Tony Archinski and Tami Dristiliaris.
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.