By Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writer
Hamilton County homeowners could be hit with a $1 to $12 annual fee on property tax bills next year to help their communities comply with federal clean-water rules.
Commercial property owners' fees would vary depending on the square footage of their buildings and parking lots under a proposal outlined Monday by the Hamilton County Engineer's Office and its consultants.
Similar storm-water fees are already in place in Butler County, Loveland, Mason and Forest Park, and other area communities are headed toward implementing them, too.
The reason: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required communities near large cities to submit plans last year to remove pollutants from rain runoff, which eventually drains into rivers and lakes. The so-called Phase II regulations are an expansion of the 1972 Clean Water Act, which for years focused on large industries and cities.
"We've arrived at a point now where additional progress is dependent on looking at the less traditional or less blatant sources of pollution," said Jim Simpson, a manager in the Southwest District office of the Ohio EPA.
Now, communities must implement their cleanup plans, which focus largely on public education and controlling runoff during and after construction of new developments.
Most of Hamilton County's 49 cities, villages and townships formed the Hamilton County Storm Water District in early 2003 to help them meet the new EPA rules, tapping into their budgets to pay the combined 2003 and 2004 district costs of $1 million.
With the cost going up, however, the district wants to give member communities the option of passing the bill on to property owners. Communities would also have a choice of service levels.
The district's basic services to all members would include creating brochures and planning how to detect and eliminate illicit sources of pollution. That's expected to cost $800,000 to $1.1 million in 2005, according to the storm-water district.
"It's reasonably palatable," said Anderson Township Trustee Russ Jackson, chairman of the county storm-water district's oversight board. "The actual dollars per property owner are relatively small."
Three optional upgrade levels, similar to cable TV packages, would let communities buy drafts of required ordinances and resolutions; inspection and mapping services; training for local officials; and enforcement of regulations.
If all communities wanted all upgrades, the district's 2005 costs could rise to $2.2 million.
It's ultimately the county commissioners' call whether the fees may be added to property tax bills and, if so, how to divide the responsibility among the county's property owners. They will discuss the issue at their next meeting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday on the sixth floor of 138 E. Court St., downtown.
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