Duplex, double-bungalow owners get stormwater fee rollback

Owners of duplexes and double bungalows are getting nearly a 50 percent break on the city's new stormwater fees.

The City Council Nov. 4 approved change in how certain utility bills are calculated. The savings will depend on the particular property, the amount of hard surface and water use; however, the changes should bring duplexes and triplexes more in line with charges for single-family homes, said Karl Westermeyer, the city's point person on the new stormwater fee system.

A property owner who uses 10 units of water a month and with 2,800 square feet of impervious surface will save $12 a month or $144 a year with the new billing method, Westermeyer said. The change is retroactive to March 1. Property owners will get credits for payments made since then.

The city will have to adjust other property owners' utility bills to make up for the lost revenue. The size of next year's increase is unknown. The city is making other billing adjustments, so it's difficult to pin down exact figures, a city memo said.

Instead of collecting $3.67 million in stormwater runoff fees from duplexes and double bungalows, the city will collect $1.9 million, or 48 percent less. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and railroad property owners are also disputing their bills.

The stormwater fee went into effect in March. The city used to have a single utility bill line for both the stormwater system and sanitary sewers, based on water usage. The utility bill now separates the charges. The city still bills sanitary sewer fees based on water use, and now bills for stormwater charges through an estimate of a property's run-off-generating hard surface.

The goal was to make the system fairer. For instance, properties that use no water but have lots of hard surface, such as parking lots, now help pay for the storm sewer system.

The change was supposed to be revenue-neutral, meaning the city would get the same amount of money under the new system. Still, the change created winners and losers.

For the nearly 13,000 duplex and double bungalow accounts, for instance, the ratio of increases to decreases was 5:2.

On average, duplex and double bungalow owners with higher bills paid approximately $6 more a month or $72 a year, compared to the old billing system. Those with decreases saved, on average, $12.29 a month or nearly $150 a year.

A new city analysis said the bills have overestimated the amount of hard surface for duplexes and double bungalows. The Council approved a new calculation that in effect lowers the stormwater bill.

Second-quarter billings suggested the city was $290,000 ahead of projections. Lower collection from duplexes will more than offset that surplus.