Middleton to vote on increasing storm water utility fee following August’s floods

March 29, 2019

Middleton residents will be asked to triple their stormwater utility bill in a referendum Tuesday to fund repairs to parts of the city that were heavily damaged in last summer’s flash flooding.

The Pheasant Branch Creek corridor, Tiedeman Pond and Stricker Pond were devastated by the downpour Aug. 20 that soaked much of western Dane County, and the city will have to pay millions of dollars to repair those areas as well as other stormwater management features, according to the referendum.

The city estimated that the August flooding caused $6.5 million in damage to public properties, including about $5.3 million to stormwater management facilities.

The annual stormwater utility charge for homeowners would jump from $15 to $45, but only through 2024.

That increase would bring in about $2.8 million over the five years.

Middleton officials are divided on whether the money is necessary at this stage.

Mayor Gurdip Brar said the call for increased revenue is premature because the city does not yet know how much money it will take to fix damaged areas and facilities.

Bill Burns, the city’s finance director, told the City Council and mayor in February that it’s still unclear how much of the construction will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The city should wait to ask for more money until a set dollar amount is determined, Brar said.

“At that stage, the city could go to referendum to ask the taxpayers for that amount of money, not an arbitrary value of raising the stormwater utility,” Brar said.

Owners with single-, two- or three-family properties are generally charged the base rate of $15, which would become $45 if the referendum passes.

Larger residential properties and commercial properties, which have more impervious surfaces such as roofs and parking lots, are currently charged at a rate of $15 for every 15,000 square feet of impervious surface, with that number rounded up. That charge would also triple.

City administrator Mike Davis said the referendum is necessary to repair the Pheasant Branch Creek corridor. Davis said FEMA will not pay for repairs to parts of the corridor that had not been engineered to withstand downpour conditions, which is about half of the creek corridor.

FEMA will also only reimburse up to 87.5 percent of the repair costs, leaving the city to foot the rest of the bill.

“After prospective FEMA reimbursement and (state Department of Natural Resources) grants are applied, we estimate a range of the city’s portion to finance would be $3.5 million on the high end and $1.5 million on the low end,” Davis said.

Davis said he believes the city would have to borrow money, delay other projects or both to complete the necessary repairs if the referendum fails.

Brar said he disagrees. He said other funding can be sought from other agencies or used from reserve funds.