Voters Decide Fate of Jackson Stormwater Fee

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When it comes to the City of Jackson's ballot proposal for a Stormwater Fee, the memories of last fall are a major influence.

"It wasn't as much fun as raking them into the street," said George Mohring of last year's process. "I had to bag them and put them in my vehicle, which was wear and tear on my vehicle. It was just a lot more work."

Jackson residents went without street sweeping and leaf collection last year, after the courts ruled the city's stormwater fee unconstitutional, saying it had to be approved by the voters.

Supporters gathered enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, and the city council voted to cement its spot there on Aug. 5.

Mohring, who will be voting yes, hopes the fee he calls "reasonable" is a way to tidy up streets and lawns around town.

But local businesses and the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce say the fee isn't fair to them.

"If residents want their leaves picked up, then have an ordinance about leaf pickup, not an ordinance that encompasses the entire stormwater system," said Mindy Bradish-Orta, president of the Jackson Chamber. "The fear is that people will pay inordinate numbers of dollars, businesses will pay large fees to fund stormwater projects that are yet to be defined or outlined."

The size of the bill could depend on the size of the business. The Chamber of Commerce says business with large parking lots for example, could pay tens of thousands of dollars in fees.

"If it passes it means certainly our fees are going to go up and there's a lot of uncertainty in the future about what we're going to pay," said Dan Machnik, who owns Willis & Machnik Financial Services.

He isn't likely to pay as much as other businesses are, based on his small parking lot and drainage from his roof, but the principle of what the city is trying to do still bothers him.

"It really feels like the city is asking us to sign a blank check for an ordinance we feel is a bit overreaching," he said.

Mayor Jason Smith says it's all about efficiency. Every rate change would require a public vote -- which could get expensive.

"If you look at a lot of ordinances across the state, across the country, most of them don't have set fees because fees are fluid," he said.

Smith estimates residents would have to pay $25-30 a year for the stormwater fee.

He encourages businesses to get away from "concrete jungles" in their parking lots and instead add rain barrels or water-retaining grasses and trees to ease the burden on the stormwater system.

Businesses that do so would be eligible for fee credits up to 100 percent of the cost.

Said Smith: "We want to get to that point where no one is paying the fee because everyone has handled their post-stormwater management efficiently."

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