BOC mulls storm water master plan

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

CONYERS -- The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners approved the first reading of the county's storm water enterprises fund, but questions remain over past due fee collections and a $250,000 master plan.

The county's Storm Water Management Division has proposed a 2011 budget of $1.991 million, all generated from fees assessed on all properties in the county, with the intention to use the funds to develop infrastructure for storm water runoff and lower pollutants in natural waterways.

The state Environment Protection Division requires all local jurisdictions to manage storm water discharge because of the risk of pollutants. The mandate for storm water management came from the federal Clean Water Act.

Commissioner JaNice Van Ness sought during the BOC meeting Tuesday to remove $250,000 in funding for a storm water master plan before the vote. She cited collection problems the division has had since it was established in 2006 and an advisory committee appointed to review ways to improve operations had yet to file their report.

She suggested a master plan may be more appropriate in 2012.

"That's over 10 percent of the budget allotted for that, and not an item that's required, although it may be suggested," she said. "I would much rather move forward with the advisory board and new leadership to find solutions to collections before we spend more than 10 percent of the budget for a master plan."

The BOC approved the 2011 budget of the Storm Water Management Division with a 2-1 vote, with Van Ness voting no. For now, the master plan remains a part of the budget. Commissioner Oz Nesbitt suggested more information should be presented to the commissioners when they take up the second reading and a final vote, scheduled for Jan. 11.

The storm water advisory committee was formed by the BOC in June to come up with new and better practices for the county's storm water management division. The committee was charged to report back to the BOC by July 2011 with its findings.

Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon explained the advisory committee will look at all operations of the storm water division, but its primary focus will be on billing and collections.

"They will look at in the future to collect any outstanding bills we may have, at the same time how our bills are distributed and whether or not our fees are adequate and how the public needs to be properly educated about what we've already done," Pridgeon said in response to questions on the advisory committee from Nesbitt.

Since its inception, the storm water fee has been derided as a "rain tax" by critics, with some residents refusing to pay the fee. The division was nearing $1 million in past due bills last year, with about half the bills three years or older. Collections efforts were made more difficult with the foreclosure crisis caused by the economic recession.

Others have also complained that as an enterprise fund, the Storm Water Management Division does not have board or authority oversight such as the water department does.

In other news, Daniel "Dan" Rothwell was hired Monday as Rockdale County's new storm water manager. He was introduced to the BOC Tuesday.

Rothwell comes from Franklin County, Fla., where he worked as a county engineer since 2006. Before then, he was the city engineer for Holly Springs.

Rothwell replaces Paul Schwindler, who left for a position in south Georgia to be closer to his family, according to Jeff Pogue, Rockdale County Human Resources director.