Urban County Council members cautiously received Mayor Jim Newberry's proposed storm-water fee Thursday, saying they need time to investigate the specifics of the tax.
Businesses and other institutions throughout the community were measuring their properties to determine how much impervious surface they have and how much they would have to pay if the new tax is approved.
Newberry met Thursday night with about 20 county property owners, such as those of Fayette Mall, Applebee's Park, Central Baptist and developers, who are likely to have the largest bills based on the amount of impervious surface on their property. The purpose of the meeting was to explain the proposed fee to them and answer their questions, said Susan Straub, Newberry's spokeswoman.
Business owners said they understand the need to fix the sewers but expressed some concern that businesses could be asked to shoulder a larger amount of the cost than residents.
"I don't think anyone is trying to get out of this ... but fairness is an issue worth talking about," Lexington Legends president and chief executive officer Alan Stein said. He estimated his company's ballpark and other properties could cost between $30,000 and $40,000 in fees.
Some council members were upset with Newberry's administration for developing the storm-water tax proposal without including the council in the discussion. Many learned about the details for the first time Thursday, when Newberry announced the proposal.
"Council really wanted to take an active role in helping develop a fee before it was made public," said Councilman Kevin Stinnett. "It's out there and something the council will have to take up in a committee."
Council members say a storm-water fee is needed, but they have questions about whether $4.16 a month per 2,500 square feet of impervious surface should be the base fee for the tax, how the credits program will work to reduce the bill for commercial properties, and how the city plans to collect it.
Storm-water issues have been a problem for the past 20 years, and the "city has a $120-something million project list that we've never been able to fund," Stinnett said. "Something has to be done. Whether or not this is the best way to do this, it will be a start."
Councilwoman Linda Gorton said, "I'm looking forward to the nuts-and-bolts discussion, including how people can mitigate it."
The council will receive a formal presentation on the proposed fee at Tuesday's work session.
The proposed storm-water fee is a requirement of a lawsuit settlement reached this year between the city and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which accused the city of violating the Clean Water Act.
The tax, assessed on nearly every parcel of land in the county, is expected to generate $16 million annually to be used to improve Lexington's water quality through monitoring, flooding fixes and maintenance for the storm-sewer system.
The fee is based on a unit of measurement the city is calling an equivalent residential unit: 2,500 square feet of impervious surface — rooftops, driveways, sidewalks — on the average residential lot.
Every single-family home and duplex, regardless of size, would be billed $4.16 a month.
The amount commercial property owners would pay is based on the number of equivalent residential units of impervious surface on the parcel. Commercial property owners could reduce their storm-water tax by as much as 20 percent through a number of possible projects that reduce the amount of water going into the storm sewers.
The University of Kentucky estimates that its storm-water bill for the main campus, which includes medical facilities, would be between $300,000 and $350,000 a year, said Gail Hairston, a university spokeswoman. UK estimates that 350 of its 780 acres are impervious surface.
Fayette County Public Schools, which has already set aside money for the fee, estimates that its share of the storm-water fee will be "in the neighborhood of a half million dollars," said Mary Wright, the district's chief operating officer. "That's just our rough estimate without considering any credit."
At Applebee's Park, the Lexington Legends are still determining how much impervious surface they own, Stein said.
The proposed credits program for commercial properties could work in the Legends' favor, Stein said.
When the ballpark was built, extra retention basins were added throughout the property, he said. "There is going to be some credit given those things."
Skip Alexander, director of construction for Central Baptist Hospital, said he would "find every way to get every one of those credits I can get."
For Central Baptist, which is looking at a 129-acre project, the 20 percent cap on tax reduction gives some pause. "I hope we could look at that and consider making that bigger," he said.
"Our community has to have this (fee) for the good of the community," said Tim Haymaker, owner of Haymaker Development.
Haymaker's business owns several properties and housing developments around Lexington. He said his business is looking at about $15,000 annually in fees.