Rockdale lines up projects for '09
Stormwater division set to start new year with 34 jobs

CONYERS - The Rockdale County stormwater management division is set to kick off a series of new projects next year following a light year of completed projects by the federally mandated program.

The stormwater division has 34 proposed capital improvement projects on tap for 2009. Officials hope to complete as many projects as possible. However, the number of projects completed is based on funding available. Those that are not done by the end of the year are moved to the following year, which is part of reason for the large number of projects lined up for next year. Yolanda Mack, director of the Rockdale County Department of Public Services and Engineering, said design work for several stormwater projects was not completed until this month, which has caused actual construction to begin early next year.

Out of a $4.5 million budget for 2008, the division has gotten through about $1 million, Mack said.

Many of the projects are to replace old culverts and drain pipes. The largest projects include a major drainage improvement along Rockdale Industrial Boulevard and a portion of Milstead Avenue north of Sigman Road.

Mack responded to residents' complaints of the stormwater division's inaction by explaining stormwater projects have become more complex. Also, years of little or no maintenance have contributed to an increase in projects that either repair or replace structures in the ground.

"People have accused us of using stormwater as a slush fund, and that is simply not the case," said Miguel Valentine, PS&E deputy director. "There's a lot that goes into the work. We do maintenance and capital improvements, but we also have to work on development projects and answer complaints and process fees."

Managing stormwater runoff from parking lots, roads and structures became a mandate from the federal government to local cities and counties in the late 1990s in order to comply with the Clean Water Act. The mandate forces local governments to take responsibility for erosion pollution problems through a stormwater management plan.

Valentine said that along with the capital improvements and maintenance projects, the county is facing more mandated requirements from the federal government. This past year, the county was required to sweep 60 miles of roadways before Dec. 21 and perform inventory mapping and screenings for the county's stormwater system. Valentine said those additional requirements have added to the cost of running the stormwater program.

Rockdale County began assessing a fee to all property owners in 2006 to fund the stormwater program. The city of Conyers began its stormwater program about the same time as the county's. Shortly after the fee began, residents complained about paying it and called it a "rain tax."

Residential customers pay $40.68 per year. Residents in the Big Haynes watershed protection area, surrounding the county's water reservoir, pay $18.36 per year. Commercial properties are charged based on the amount of impervious surface.

Though some people have refused to pay the stormwater fee, Mack said the delinquency rate is between 15 and 20 percent since the fee began in 2006, but the department has seen efforts of some customers to catch up in the past year.

The county assesses the fee separately from the county property tax bill or water bill and does its own collections. Right now, the county can only charge a 1 percent late charge per month for delinquent payments. Mack said her department is looking at other options to collect on the late payments and had considered using a collection agency.

But after talking to other local governments, Mack said the department has moved away from the idea of using a collection agency to other methods such as assessing liens and properties, similar to what the county tax commissioner does with delinquent taxes.

The department sends out a letter reminding people to pay the stormwater fees, and Mack said that people have responded to that.

"We want to find something that works for Rockdale County," she said.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.