By editorial board • 

City's stormwater needs worthy of a careful look

McMinnville’ stormwater system uses a network of catch basins, open channels and buried lines to drain 10,700 acres of land in a wet climate influenced by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.

That would be challenging enough if the land retained its original cover of thirsty, highly absorbent vegetation.

But it has come to instead feature about 10,000 single-family residences. And with their attending patios, decks, porches, driveways and walkways, they average about 3,500 square feet of impervious ground cover each.

To that must be added a vast web of streets, sidewalks and parking lots, along with many hundred commercial, industrial and apartment enterprises of various dimensions. It all adds up to a massive expanse of asphalt, concrete and shingle surfaces soaking up little if any stormwater runoff.

Cities commonly have a dedicated funding source in place for their stormwater systems, but McMinnville does not. It has historically relied on catch-as-catch-can diversions from its transportation and sewage treatment funds.

Earlier this year, the city created an 11-member task force to explore creation of such a source going forward. And that would require tapping residential, commercial and industrial users in some fashion, as they are reaping the benefits of the service.

Consultants say the city needs about $4 million a year to cover maintenance and operation of such a system on a sustained basis, and recommends a fee structure based on equivalent residential units, the preferred assessment tool for about 80% of the nation’s municipal utilities. Early projections are pegging the resulting fee for single-family residences at about $12.50 a month, which works out to $150 a year.

Taxes and fees aren’t very popular with the city’s constituents, of course. And it seems as if the city has had its hand out all too often of late, as it tries to cope with lack of any hike in its basic general funding taxing authority in almost half a century, coupled with steady growth and property tax relief measures serving to limit annual assessed valuation increases to 3%.

However, it bears keeping this in mind: The local property tax bite accounts for only $14.6 million or 19% of the city’s $140 million budget. Other sources, mostly on the state and federal levels, account for more than $125 million or 81%.

Even with utility bills and a new fire levy factored in, taxpayers are actually getting plenty of bang for their buck. They are getting police and fire protection, sewer and water service, street and park networks, recreation programs, and pool, library and community center operations, just to name some of the headliners.

One other thing can be said for city leaders.

In contrast with their county courthouse critics, they are good about being open, transparent, public and deliberate. They rarely make a move without thoroughly exploring all options in the full light of day, through proceedings open to the public at every step.

The county is prone to staging surprises, like the massive Hampton Lumber tax break, without even a courtesy nod to public comment or input. The city may sometimes seem to study an issue to death, but it doesn’t lurch from one surprise to another as the county so often has.

Given the city’s methodical pace, hard decisionmaking on stormwater funding appears to be at least six months off yet. So there’s still plenty of time for all interested parties to weigh in before the process plays out.


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