Town approves stormwater utility fund

Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 6/20/18

ORANGE PARK – Orange Park stormwater cleanup is going to be very expensive and now, the town council will have to choose one of four different funding options to pay for it.

During a special …

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Town approves stormwater utility fund

Posted

ORANGE PARK – Orange Park stormwater cleanup is going to be very expensive and now, the town council will have to choose one of four different funding options to pay for it.

During a special meeting held June 18, Orange Park Town Council was presented with a stormwater study detailing the costs associated with the cleanup. The study, conducted by the Jacksonville offices of engineering consultant firm Jones Edmunds, was contracted earlier this year, and involved 30 days of field work, over 3,000 full feature assessments and 1,500 photos. Engineers now know exactly which areas of Orange Park are suffering the most in terms of stormwater buildup, which areas act as the major choke points, which features need replacing and more. While a necessary expenditure, the town is looking at a cleanup that will not only take years, but cost millions as well.

The first point of discussion during the Jones Edmunds presentation was the stormwater piping present throughout the town. There are currently 1,618 pipes that will need to be replaced one day, naturally. To replace them all now would cost $15.2 million. However, Brian Icerman, a vice president with Jones Edmunds, said not all of the pipes need to be replaced. He also pointed out the town’s stormwater structures, of which, there are 1,165 in Orange Park. To replace all of them would cost the town $5.1 million.

“Right now, thinking about it from a macro perspective, that’s a ballpark number for you,” Icerman said. “What this does help you do is see where you’re at in terms of the spread. It also gives you an idea on how to come up with a life cycle cost.”

From there, Icerman moved on to high priority areas in the town that need attention as soon as possible. The field work completed by Jones Edmunds determined that there were six of these high priority areas: Winfred Drive, San Robar Drive, Shaw Street, Azalea Lane, Hopkins Street and Gano Avenue. The problems with these high priority areas ranges from “large sediment buildup in channel downstream of headwall on the eastern bank causing a constriction in the channel,” to, “Massive tree fall at culvert and other trees in the channel,” and even, culverts whose pipes are filled with 50 percent sediment.

Before closing, Icerman laid out what the engineering firm believes should be the next steps the town can and should take. He broke these steps down into three categories: maintenance and inspection, capital projects and funding.

For maintenance and inspection, Jones Edmunds recommends immediate maintenance on the areas designated as high priority and setting up a schedule for routine inspection and maintenance in these areas. The capital projects they recommend are acquiring a hydraulic or flow model, creating stormwater capacity improvements and replacing culverts. Finally, in terms of the funding, they believe the town needs to work on utilizing grants, general funds and setting up a stormwater utility.

After this presentation, Public Works Director Chuck Pavlos explained to the council how the $81,000 freed up from the Capital Improvement Plan and $500,000 from the General Fund Balance was used in stormwater cleanup and maintenance. He said $50,000 of that paid for crew wages, $65,000 paid for the engineering of town projects and finally, $466,000 paid for the Menzi Muck vehicle, ditch clearing, flow modeling, and conservation land and dredge permits.

Two grants the town is most likely able to secure are the USDA’s Emergency Watershed Program NRCS grant and FEMA’s Section 404 Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. The NRCS grant would be used for the Dudley Branch Floodway Restoration Project, which will cost $1,051,544. The FEMA grant will be used for a number of projects such as Winfred Drive stormwater improvements, St. Johns river bank stabilization, Saw Street Pond improvements and more. These projects are estimated to cost $3.8 million.

“Both of these grants, though, are reimbursement grants, which means we cover the costs up front and then they reimburse us,” Pavlos said. “They also only reimburse 75 percent of the costs so the town would be covering 25 percent of the cost when all is said and done.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t all of the stormwater work the town faces.

“We still have dredging to pay for,” Pavlos said.

Dredging costs, which would not be covered by the two grants the town is pursuing, would reach an estimated $324,500 on the low side, and potentially as high as $626,000.

In order to pay for these projects, the town is looking at four funding options. The first option funds the projects out of the General Fund Balance with no increase in expenditure. The second option funds the projects out of the General Fund Balance but sees an increase in ad valorem taxes to cover all costs. The third option relies on neighborhood assessments and finally, the fourth option sets up a stormwater utility fee, with or without millage decreases.

While the council did not vote on which option they best see fit, it was clear that all of the council members were committed to getting these projects funded one way or another.

“Irma was not an anomaly. It is the new reality,” Vice Mayor Ron Raymond said. “We have got to get this fixed and this town ready.”

Council members appeared especially interested in establishing a stormwater utility fee. Not only would this fee allow the town to set up a stormwater utility program with three dedicated workers, but it would cost less than $10 a month for the average household in Orange Park.

“For the average home, which I believe is 3,700 square feet of impervious area, you would be $7 a month [per monthly utility bill],” said Town Manager Sarah Campbell.

The meeting ended with a motion by Raymond to move forward with an assessment for a stormwater utility as an enterprise fund. According to Campbell, this assessment would cost $10,000. The council approved the measure 5-0. Other votes pertaining to the special meeting’s content, such as how best to fund future stormwater projects, will take place at the upcoming Orange Park Town Council regular meeting on June 26.

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