20% of Proposed "High Priority" Storm Drain Tax Hardly a "Priority"


A somewhat nebulous portion of the proposed storm drain tax amounting to $155,000 of the $800,000/year the town seeks for "high priority" items doesn't appear to be all that important: the Town Engineer didn't even include it until the town's consultant asked. And, residents already are paying for this activity.

Something called "NPDES" represents 20% of the proposed annual tax amount, and its ultimate purpose and use aren't entirely clear to most, since it is a permit compliance activity with many elements that aren't even relevant to Moraga* such as eliminating PCBs and Mercury from entering stormwater runoff. The town simplifies it as a "clean drinking water" activity that resonates better with voters.

Bottom line:

  1. Residents already are paying ~$250,000/year for this activity

  2. The Town Engineer doesn't even think it's a high priority item

  3. The Town is using only 25% of the money for storm drain infrastructure

  4. They want to tax an additional $155,000/year

  5. Another line item in the proposed tax is for maintenance

Residents Already Paying for This

Residents already are paying $225,000 to $250,000/year for this in existing taxes. And, according to town documents, only a very small portion appears to be used for its intended purpose:

  • Of the $240,000 in 2017 taxes collected, only $100,000 was allocated to storm drain infrastructure. The balance: offsetting Public Works department salaries.

  • That's actually better than the average of the past four years during which the town spent just 27% of this existing tax ($250,000 of $1,100,000) on storm drain infrastructure.

  • For 2018, the town will collect $235,000, but spend just $10,000 on infrastructure and $36,000 on maintenance

Director of Public Works Didn't Think It Important

What we also have discovered is this item is neither top-of-mind, neglected, underfunded, nor important enough to keep the Town Engineer up at night: it wasn't even included in the initial calculations for the proposed "high priority" storm drain tax.

The Town's consultant had to prompt for its inclusion, and the Town Engineer's response was, essentially, a "sure, throw that in and the council will take it out if it doesn't matter."

Contrast that dispassion with the dire warnings and pleas for money towards our "failing storm drain system" and ask yourself why there's a 20% tax premium for such an apparently nonessential, duplicate item.

The proposed tax for "high priority" storm drain initiatives will charge us three times over for this single item (existing $250,000 annual tax, duplicate maintenance fees in a separate line item, and an additional NPDES fee) when they're not even deploying the money they've been collecting for years already.

Notes and Links:

*NPDES is the cost of complying with EPA storm water permits, which Moraga shares with Contra Costa County. It's primarily designed to prevent and mitigate pollutants finding their way into storm water systems, and the EPA and state/regional/county agencies typically provide industrial examples of them (manufacturing, processing, refining, etc). Moraga, obviously has none of those and describes on its website its activities as:

...inspection of construction activities for permit compliance, annual cleaning of drainage structures, inspection of all drainage culverts, weekly trash collection, marking of storm drains, and other maintenance to comply with the clean water regulations.

Two observations on the stated intent and activity:

  1. the inspection of construction activities are paid for by developers and contractors

  2. the proposed tax already includes a separate line-item for maintenance activities

Email exchange between the Town Engineer and tax consultant: here

Town documents with tax receipts and spending: pages 40 and 223 of the PDF: here

2018 collections, maintenance and infrastructure spending: page 40 "NPDES Capital Projects" here and page 18 "NPDES" and page 24 "Storm Drain Maintenance" here

More information, analysis and articles on the storm drain tax are available on our Storm Drain Central page right here.