NTF Issue Paper: ccwatch35.doc. 12-07.
NEBRASKA TAXPAYERS FOR FREEDOM ISSUE PAPER:
OMAHA TAXPAYERS GOUGED FOR SEWER FEES.
BACKGROUND. The City of Omaha Finance Dept. declared significant expenditures for planning and implementing the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) project, an unfunded mandate yoked onto us by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in its Clean Water Act. Planning expenditures began in 2006, implementation taking about 15 years, beginning in 2010.1
THE COST. To pay for this system, the city is raising our sewer use fees, paid through the Metropolitan Utilities District billings we receive each month. The typical residential bill will increase by $2 per month in 2007. Residents previously paid about $10 per month. A typical residential household by the end of this project will pay from $30 to $50 monthly fees. Yet, the hype reads, “without imposing excessive financial burden on system users.” Homeowners also will see an increase in the flow rate charge from MUD. Another round of fee hikes will begin in 2011, the amount presently unknown. The city Public Works Dept. must hire 2 more employees to handle this mandate.2 Mayor Fahey requested the city council to approve incremental sewer use fee hikes over 4 years, raising the city rates by about 9% each year until 2010, and the council voted in agreement. The city contends that it needs rate hikes to pay to replace or improve old infrastructure and add to the system. The cost may necessitate using already stretched property tax revenues. Also, the hike would pay for continuing work to separate stormwater and wastewater sewers found combined in old neighborhoods, comprising about 51 square miles. On very rainy days, the old system overflows, dumping raw sewage into the Missouri River and Papillion Creek and causing backups and street flooding. In newer neighborhoods west of 72nd Street, contractors laid separate sewer systems. Fees would apply to sewer system users living outside the Omaha city limits, in Ralston, Bellevue, Bennington, etc. The city Public Works Dept. estimates a total cost of from $500 million - $3 billion.
UNNEEDED EXPENSES. The city paid a public relations firm (Lovgren Marketing) over $444,000 to manage propaganda presentations and solicit input at several public meetings over 11 months, together with slick, fancy brochures, some offered in Spanish. The city paid millions to hire design and engineering companies to offer expensive alternatives, like huge above ground and below ground holding tanks. They ignored the cheaper alternative of low-impact designs that use various land planning and design practices and technologies to conserve and protect natural resource systems and reduce infrastructure costs. Low impact designing is simple, designing and utilizing land re-development to minimize and mitigate the effect of rainwater run-off and contaminants that modify and pollute our rivers and streams. The methods are simple and effective. Reduce road widths, driveway sizes, and building footprints, and maintain dispersed flow instead of concentrating it in pipe flows. Collect rainwater from roofs for garden use and use rain gardens and green roofs to reduce contaminants and volumes of runoff. By incorporating economic and environmental considerations, it allows land development in a cost-effective manner that helps mitigate potential environmental impacts. Best suited for new, suburban development, it can offer developers both infrastructure savings and a way to respond to increasingly strict environmental regulations. For municipalities, it can help contain burgeoning street and storm water management costs. It encourages local environmental stewardship and saves tax $$ for urban residents.
RIGGED. The mayor has established a “citizens committee,” supposed to represent neighborhoods, but stacked with those who will do his bidding, so ignore this input. The city-private partner panel workshops appear all filled by proponents to evidence alleged public acceptance, no taxpayer rights members included.
TAKE ACTION NOW. Our metro area has no dangerous water quality linked to human health concerns. This plan would pour tax $$ down the drain. The House of Representatives passed a bill to offer grants to communities like Omaha to cover part of the costs. Lobby Cong. Lee Terry to 1) obtain a portion of this grant money for Omaha to cover present costs, and 2) support House legislation to repeal this EPA unfunded mandate. Attend May and August public meetings and open houses to voice your opposition to the expense of this plan and offer the above alternatives. The city contracted with UN-O to provide alternatives for financing improvements, so there may exist other alternatives to steep rate hikes. The Omaha city council must vote future fee hikes and expenditures, so lobby your city councilman to curtail costs.
REFERENCES. See more technical information at website www.omahacso.com.
Research, documentation, and analysis for this issue paper done by Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, with express prior permission granted for its use by Citizens for Local Control, Cherry County Taxpayers, and Dawes County Taxpayers. 12-07. C