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MSD Seeks New Stormwater Fee To Help Address Flooding, Erosion

Flooding along Maline Creek, in north St. Louis County, is eroding away the yards of homes on Cedarhurst Drive.
Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District is asking its customers to pay a little more for stormwater service in an effort to fix problems caused by erosion.

The new fee, which would be based on how much of a property can absorb water, would cost the average homeowner about $27 a year. It’s expected to generate about $30 million to stabilize creek and stream banks and repair the damage, and deal with flooding.

“We’re seeing a change in weather patterns, stronger storms during shorter periods of time,” said MSD’s executive director, Brian Hoelscher. “That causes more stress on the creeks and streams, eats up roadways, fences, people’s garages, and sometimes even threatens their homes.”  

Right now, the current stormwater rate covers regulatory functions and repairs to public infrastructure like inlets and manhole covers. If voters approve the increase, which will be on the ballot on April 2 as Proposition S, Hoelscher said, MSD would be able to offer a full slate of services for the first time.

“We know the problems are out there,” he said. “We’ve heard enough information from the public that we wanted to put a program together for the voters to decide whether or not they want MSD to provide the last major stormwater service that MSD can provide.”

This is not the first time MSD has attempted to use an impervious fee to raise money for erosion control. It had one in place between 2007 and 2013, when the Missouri Supreme Court ruled it had to be approved by voters.

Hoelscher said the utility took the six years since to look at its stormwater funding mechanisms. In April 2016, voters approved a proposal known as Proposition S that evened out stormwater funding across the region. The new impervious fee, he said, is the final component.

Voters have approved several rate increases for both stormwater and wastewater services over the last several years. Local social-service agencies say they have not seen an increase in people needing help with their MSD bills, but the utility’s finance director, Marion Gee, said there are options for customers who are having trouble.

“We have payment agreements,” Gee said. “And we have a program where a customer can receive a 50 percent discounted rate, so they would pay half of what we charge now, which would hopefully help those customers out who are experiencing difficulties with their finances.”

The discounted rates are tied to federal poverty levels, Gee said, but payment plans are done on a case-by-case basis.

There is no organized opposition to the proposal. In 2016, minority labor groups opposed a bond issue for required upgrades to the utility’s wastewater system because of the way MSD was handling minority contracting issues. But Adolphus Pruitt with the St. Louis branch of the NAACP said that is no longer an issue.

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.