City waives fee for utility program

The city adopted its program last year, which allows homeowners, business owners, condominium associations and condo owners to lower their fees by using items such as rain barrels and gardens to reduce storm water runoff. But no one applied for the program, said Sky Schelle, the city’s storm water coordinator.

So city commissioners recently agreed to waive the program’s $50 application fee until 2014 to encourage more participation.

The program is expected to begin April 1 once details, including possible savings for residents, are ironed out, Schelle said. Residents can apply by calling 937-324-7739.

“The improvements will make it easier to apply and easier for people to see the benefits of some of these practices,” he said. “We’re excited about it. The ultimate goal is to give as many people as possible the opportunity to put one of these practices on their property, reduce storm water and help us protect the water quality here.”

The storm water utility was created to pay for some of the federally mandated, $58 million improvements to the wastewater treatment plant. The city could spend as much as $160 million to comply with all of the sewer overflow standards.

Schelle said he hear lots of questions from residents about how they can reduce their storm water bill, and ways to reduce runoff.

“People are interested in both,” he said.

The storm water utility generated about $375,000 in its first year. This year, with rates increasing from $.60 to $1.30 a month for the average home, the city expects to collect $975,000.

City Finance Director Mark Beckdahl said the utility rate will remain at that amount for at least a year.

The storm water department also recently applied for a $100,000 grant through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to increase visibility and educate residents about storm water.

If awarded, the city might turn one of its balconies at City Hall into a rain garden, create a rain garden in the tree island near the utility bill box or convert a portion of a Main Street site into a rain garden, or do a combination of those projects.

“It will show the public different ways to reduce storm water,” Schelle said.

The storm water department is also in the process of building a 1,700-gallon cistern collecting runoff from the roof that will be used to supply water to National Trail and Parks and Recreation District’s greenhouse, as well as a 500-square-foot rain garden near the district’s administration building through a $15,000 grant from the Ohio EPA.

The department is also planning to regrade the bottom of a pond at the city’s service center to plant prairie and wetland native seeds. The wetland area will hold the pond water longer, allowing more time for it to soak into the plants and the ground. The project is expected to be finished in July.

“We hope less water will leave the site, and the water that does leave will be cleaner,” Schelle said.

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