Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Storm fee fiascos

Posted By on Tue, Jun 9, 2009 at 2:40 PM

Some say that at times, you have to laugh to keep from crying. When it comes to local government, I often find myself doing both simultaneously.

Granted, storm fee rates aren't the great cosmic issue of our time, but the way it has been handled recently is a perfect lesson in how screwy and dysfunctional Charlotte Mecklenburg government can be. (And don't get me started on City Council spending a whole hour discussing pygmy goats.) Homeowners in this county pay storm water fees, which are included in the monthly water bill, according to the amount of impervious surface — areas where rainwater cannot soak into the ground — on their property. Or at least that's the way it's supposed to work.

In reality, owners of smaller homes and properties with smaller driveways have been subsidizing the fees that should've been paid by owners of McMansions and houses with giant, four-lane driveways. To make the system fairer, the county proposed shifting more of the burden to the largest homes, so that homeowners with more than 5,000 square feet of impervious surfaces would have paid $200 per year rather than the current $96. The smallest homes were to see a slight decrease. Seems fair enough, right? Well, no, not to McMansion owners, who poor-mouthed night and day about how, sniff, their storm water fees would double, and, boo-hoo, they might have to cut back on the poodle's trimming schedule or, whimper, send their kids to summer camps without good cellphone reception, or some other thing McMansion owners think is their God-given right to have while the rest of us struggle to pay bills. So now, county officials say they really don't want to increase large owners' fees by that whopping $104 "until the economy improves." Silly me, I thought the sucking economy would be a great reason to make the fees more equitable so that those hardest hit would get a little break. I don't know why I have to keep thinking that things should be fair, it must be a chemical imbalance or something.

Another reason the changes weren't made: the city and county governments have different ways of divvying up the various sizes of properties, and the county wants to avoid confusion, which is kind of funny coming from that bunch, but that's another issue. That's the dysfunctional part of the story: our ongoing, apparently never-to-be-changed dueling-governments system, with the city and county overloading us with bureaucratic inefficiency. So, laugh or cry, take your pick. Or learn to do both at the same time.

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