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Representatives of schools, businesses weigh in on storm sewer fee

They wanted immediate action, no action, more attention paid to trees, more public oversight and credit for good behavior.

The Urban County Council heard from more people with more diverse opinions Thursday in the second of two public meetings on a proposed storm sewer fee.

The fee — a little more than $50 a year for nearly everyone, but a lot more for schools, churches and some businesses — could come up for a final vote next Thursday.

If council members want to make substantial changes based on what they've heard from the public, that would require waiting another week for final passage, said Councilwoman Linda Gorton, who led a task force that spent four months studying the fee.

Commerce Lexington, which represents the city's business interests, had hoped to table the fee for at least a number of months. But Bob Quick, the group's president and CEO, acknowledged that that is not likely to happen.

"Commerce Lexington is still concerned about the timing of the fee with the recession, but it's clear the council has the will to move forward toward resolving our storm water problem," he said.

His group suggested a number of changes to the proposed ordinance mandating the fee, including a seven-member review board that would keep tabs on the storm water program and report regularly to the council.

Quick also endorsed changes proposed by Bill Lear, an attorney and developer. Lear suggested fee reductions for properties that take or have already taken steps that go above and beyond current storm water runoff standards.

The main problem with the proposed ordinance, Lear said, is "it's basically a one-size-fits-all solution, and doesn't differentiate between good guys and bad guys."

Mary Wright, representing Fayette County Schools, said the school system would like to see credits for projects such as the rain gardens that are popping up at schools, and for storm water education programs.

The proposed fee got strong support from a number of people.

Hank Graddy, a Midway attorney who heads a water monitoring group called the Kentucky River Watershed Watch, said seven of the 20 most polluted streams in the river basin are in Fayette County.

"We believe this is part of the solution," he said.

Jack Wilson, a retired state employee who for 14 years was director of the state Division of Water, said he had heard excuses for decades about why there was not enough money to fix the city's storm water problems.

"I urge you, don't lose your nerve now," he said.

The fee, which will pay for improvements to the system that carries rainwater, is required by a settlement the city signed last year with the Environmental Protection Agency, which has sued Lexington for violations of the Clean Water Act.

Sanitary sewer fees were raised last year and will go up again in July to fix problems with that system.

The storm sewer fee must be in place two years after a federal judge signs off on the agreement with the EPA. That clock has not yet started running, but proponents of the fee argue that the city has an obligation to stop violating the law as soon as possible.

The proposed fee would be $4.32 a month for single-family homes, duplexes and farm parcels. Stores, schools, churches and factories would pay $4.32 for every 2,500 square feet of driveway, parking lot, roof or other impervious surface. If the council approves the fee, collections would begin early next year.