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Thursday, September 6, 2012

STORMWATER: Two things customers should know about the fee that starts Jan. 1, 2013

The Sewer District's Regional Stormwater Management Program is preparing to collect fees starting January 1, 2013.

In preparation for these billing changes for customers, there are two important things to keep in mind:

First, our stormwater-management efforts are not new; and second, we are dedicated to effectively communicating the details of this program, its fees, and related projects over the next three months.

 The fee is new, the work isn’t.

"This program is already happening," said Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District Executive Director Julius Ciaccia to Trustees at Thursday's Board meeting regarding stream maintenance, regional planning, and community outreach the District has been conducting for years. "What hasn't happened yet is the fee."

Since 2007, the Sewer District has held three rounds meetings—187 total—with member communities, 57 meetings with stakeholders and other organizations, and 131 meetings with customers like schools, religious institutions and businesses who would be impacted by a stormwater fee. A fourth round of community meetings is being prepared now.

Court decisions in recent months have allowed the Sewer District to prepare for a January 1, 2013 implementation date to begin collecting a fee based on the amount of impervious surface (hard surfaces like driveways, patios, and rooftops) on a customers' property. The impervious is measured in Equivalent Residential Units, or ERUs. One ERU equals 3,000 square feet of impervious surface, which is the average amount of impervious surface for a Sewer District customer.

Stormwater problems like stream flooding, erosion, and poor water quality have plagued parts of our service area for a long time, but there has never been a coordinated regional effort or entity to address them. The Sewer District has experience with stormwater-management projects, and has even encouraged property-owners' stormwater-management intiatives through support grants. After years of study, planning, and communication, it has been granted the authority to move this formal regional program forward.

Stormwater-management projects, inspections, and planning are already underway and the new source of revenue beginning in January will further our master-planning efforts.

Fee credit applications also have been available online, and customers may take advantage of credit opportunities before fees go into effect. The applications are available in our Fee Credit Manual.

 Customers need to know

This fall will include expansive communication efforts to ensure fee details, estimated charges, and credit opportunities (that may save customers money) are available to our more than 340,000 affected customers. Here are some of the efforts customers can expect:

In September, large non-residential customers (such as property owners with more than 33 ERUs) will be invited to a series of workshops in October where they will learn more about their property-specific estimated stormwater fees, available credits, and opportunities to control stormwater on their property.

CUSTOMER MAILING (November-December):
Over several weeks in November and December, we will send personalized letters to all of our customer accounts. The letters will show customers what the quarterly fee would be (about $16 for most customers) and inform them of our credit program [Download a PDF of our residential credit manual] and contact information if they'd like to learn more or discuss their fee. You also can find your property charges online using our FeeFinder.

We are increasing our Customer Service staff in anticipation of this mailing to improve wait times that negatively affected some customers last year.

MEDIA: Print, web, radio and TV (November-December)
We will use many resources to let customers know more about the problems the program addresses, the fees and credits, and how to reach us. This will include television and radio spots, print advertisements, and improved web and social media resources to best serve a wider variety of customers.

CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANCE (September through first quarter 2013):
We understand new fees will generate many questions from customers, and we want to be responsive and responsible with all of them. We already have begun training staff and preparing additional temporary personnel to best meet our customers' needs.

"You can never communicate too much in this kind of situation," said Board of Trustees President Darnell Brown.

New updates and resources will be posted to in the coming weeks and customers also can email or call (216) 881-8247 with stormwater-related questions.

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