Solving stormwater distress requires broad participation

Subdivisions in unincorporated parts of the county occasionally pose problems for county government.

When many were platted and approved, the developer and then a homeowners association was to be responsible for infrastructure maintenance within the subdivision. This included road maintenance, snowplowing, and drainage and stormwater maintenance.

But when a homeowners association stops operating, those duties do not automatically fall to the county; and solving problems can be difficult. Recent heavy rains offer a case in point.

The Stone Village subdivision in the Center Grove area was hit hard with about 5 inches of rain within hours. Nearly 30 residents were rescued by emergency workers in boats.

But the county can’t easily step in and solve the problem. As a solution, officials want to create a stormwater utility district. Homeowners would pay annual fees to the county, so that when privately owned pipelines need to be replaced or a dam needs to be repaired, the homeowners aren’t hit with a bill of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At first, commissioner Ron West wants subdivisions to voluntarily join the stormwater utility district and would poll all homeowners to see if they’re in favor of joining the district. But in the future, he expects all subdivisions — including future neighborhoods — to be included in the utility district.

The county would be able to take money from a new subdivision as seed money for their respective district fund to be used 15 to 20 years in the future, West said.

County officials want to spread the burden of paying for better drainage or a new drainage pipe or repairing stormwater infrastructure. If a stormwater utility district were created, subdivisions could be financially covered when repairs are needed.

For some subdivisions, such as Stone Village, the neighborhood is private, so the county cannot step in and make those repairs. The responsibility falls to the homeowners association. West said that is not the best way to handle larger projects, such as improving drainage throughout an entire subdivision.

“Originally, it was the homeowners who bore responsibility to those infrastructure improvements,” West said. “The problem, as we know now, is homeowners associations in those areas go defunct, and there would be no collective group to do anything, and it would be up to the homeowners.”

A homeowner could choose to not repair the drainage or pipes under a home or would not have enough money to pay for the needed improvements, West said. Instead, West wants the county to establish a district that would collect fees from the homeowners annually. The county would examine each subdivision annually and see what issues need addressed first, he said.

West’s proposal offers a solid path forward to addressing the drainage issue. The assessment for each property would be like the ditch assessment many county residents already pay to maintain drainage infrastructure. By spreading the cost, major projects can be undertaken to effect a solution.

At issue

Many older subdivisions are unable to properly maintain stormwater infrastructure.

Our point

By creating stormwater districts, the county could collect money that would be put toward needed repairs in the future.