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New Storm Sewer Fees Catching Some Cedar Rapids Businesses by Surprise

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- A storm water fee on Cedar Rapids municipal utility bills typically doesn't get much notice. For homeowners, it's only $4.78 per month and that fee has remained the same.

But beginning July 1st, the storm water fee for multi-family homes and businesses was changed to a sliding fee based on the size of the property. And the hefty percentage increase has caught some small businesses by surprise.

Marissa Leibold, office manager for Hook'er Towing, opened the company's combined water, sanitary sewer and storm water utility bill on Thursday and got an unexpected surprise. The two-month bill that was $70.35 before had shot up to $135.73 for the billing cycle after the July 1st increase—an amount nearly double. And most of the change was due to the storm water fee now based on the size of non-residential property.

"when I plan a budget and it gets exceeded, I'm the one that suffers. I get asked why wasn't my budget on plan and I said I have no idea," Leibold said.

Hook'er Towing has a business lot just a bit under two acres in size. The company's monthly storm water fee, that was the same as the residential rate of $4.78 per month before, will now be $38.20 per month. Rates for businesses and multi-family property will now range from $9.55 per month for lots under a half acre up to $133.71 per month for any property six acres or larger.

Craig Hanson, Cedar Rapids public works maintenance manager, said the change echoes the way most other communities charge storm sewer fees to support the system of pipes and drains that carry away runoff rain water. The more property you have that drains into streets, the more you should pay to help support the system. Hanson said the new fee schedule, for storm water, puts Cedar Rapids about in the middle of the pack compared to other cities.

"We're a city of over 100,000, the only other community like us in the state is Des Moines. And if you compare our rates to Des Moines, we're in line with them," Hanson said.

Leibold said she doesn't dispute the "fairness" change in that large properties should pay a greater share of the cost of maintaining storm sewers. But she did object to the lack of notice to customers and sudden impact on her small business budget.

"This would not have been an issue if I'd gotten a notice in the mail that said by the way this is why we're doing this and this is way the fee will go up to," she said.

Hanson said the city council passed the fee increase earlier this spring along with new rates for water and sanitary sewer. Hanson said only one person spoke at public hearings about the increase. He said the city does not routinely include notices about coming fee increases in utility bills to customers.

The city has received about one or two comments or complaints a day since the storm water fees went up. Because the city bills in cycles, some businesses are just now getting utility bills that reflect the new rates.

Hanson said over the last five years, the city has fallen about $1.5-million dollars a year short of funding storm water maintenance and improvements with the current fee. That was the primary reason the city council approved an increase.

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