Environment and Health

Inability to Establish Stormwater Utility Districts


The Mandate: Municipalities that fall within the scope of the Municipal Stormwater Sewer System (MS4) program are required to comply with a series of stormwater management system mandates. Under the MS4 program, impacted municipalities are required, by the federal government, to implement best practices with respect to their oversight of stormwater in municipal systems. According to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation who administers the program, there are six minimum control measures that constitute best practices that all MS4 municipalities must implement. These requirements include the controlling of capital costs, maintenance costs, regulatory oversight costs and programmatic costs.

The Cost: The cost of complying with the MS4 program varies from community to community, depending on a myriad of factors. However, the bottom line is that this program places a significant and costly mandate on the local governments who are obligated to meet the MS4 program requirements. Historically, some funding for MS4 compliance has been included included the state's Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). Unfortunately, the need far exceededs the state assistance that has been made available to help impacted communities implement this program.

The Solution: The state should pass enabling legislation which would allow municipalities the option to create "stormwater utility districts." These districts have been used successfully by municipalities in other states to address the administration of the MS4 program. A stormwater utility would operate as a department of municipal government, similar to municipal water and sewer utilities. These utilities are funded by user fees.  The fees are  imposed upon benefited properties, rather than being levied as a general tax.  This approach is perceived as more equitable by property owners and provides for a more reliable revenue stream. The user fee is set annually based on program needs.

Currently, the functions needed to implement the MS4 program are dispersed throughout many different municipal departments. A stormwater utility would consolidate these functions, making administration more efficient and providing a focal point to ensure MS4 compliance. It would also provide a mechanism to better account for program costs. This system may also be applied to a county or regional-level authority. In doing so, the efficiencies of scale and intermunicipal drainage/basin issues may be more readily addressed.

It is unclear whether municipalities currently have the authority to create stormwater utility districts under current law.  A definite statutory framework would eliminate any uncertainly and acknowledge the need for alternative financing opportunities for cities and villages that are subject to this mandate.