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Stormwater fees big expense for many

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In the past few years, businesses, homeowners and other property owners across the county have started paying a new fee.

Stormwater utilities have been set up to raise money to pay for local drainage projects, such as work around downtown Franklin to stop businesses from being flooded or cleaning out drainage pipes in Greenwood neighborhoods. Bigger projects, which could total millions of dollars, are being planned.

Those projects are paid for by the local property owners, who pay more or less depending on where they live and what they own. In some communities, such as Franklin, properties are charged a flat rate. But in others, such as Greenwood, Whiteland and Bargersville, certain property owners pay a fee based on the size of the building and parking lot where water drains off.

For some of the top payers, fees top $2,000 per month. That includes large properties, such as Greenwood Park Mall, and industrial companies, like Dayton Freight in Greenwood.

But that also includes local governments.

One of the highest bills in the county — more than $6,200 per month — goes to Clark-Pleasant schools. The school district has nine school buildings, an administration office and other facilities for storage and offices, totaling more than 1.3 million square feet. It pays monthly fees to Greenwood, Whiteland and New Whiteland.

The city of Greenwood also pays one of the highest bills at nearly $2,000 per month. In Edinburgh, Whiteland and New Whiteland, local governments, such as the town, schools and library district, make the list of the highest bills. And the top payer in Bargersville, at more than $560 per month, is Maple Grove Elementary School.

Local governments are charged the fee as a utility, just as they would be charged for electricity or water, Greenwood stormwater superintendent Chris Jones said.

“There is no special exception for government. We pay because we are using the service,” Jones said.

But that also means taxpayers often pay twice.

For example, Greenwood residents would pay $5 per month for their own stormwater fee, plus their tax dollars would help pay the city’s monthly bill for city hall and other city properties. And, if their kids go to Clark-Pleasant schools, they also would be paying their portion of the school district’s monthly bill.

The fees go to a stormwater utility, a requirement by the federal government, which oversees the quality and quantity of water draining off properties. Local communities charge the fee in different ways.

For example, in Franklin, homeowners are charged a flat rate of $5 per month. Other properties, such as businesses, pay a rate based on their size. KYB Americas, for instance, pays $15 per month since it has more than 40,000 square feet of land.

Other communities, such as Greenwood, calculate the fee for businesses and other properties based on how much space their building and parking lot take up.

Greenwood Park Mall, for example, pays a monthly bill of more than $5,800, based on the size of the property. The fees have not been an issue for the mall, and officials support improving infrastructure with the money collected, Simon spokesman Les Morris said in a statement.

Clark-Pleasant Community School Corp. pays its monthly bills with money from a fund used to pay for projects and from the general fund, which also is used to pay teacher salaries and benefits.

What that means is that more than $70,000 per year that could be used to hire a new teacher is instead being spent on stormwater bills, director of business Steve Sonntag said.

“That would definitely pay for at least one teacher and his or her benefits,” he said.

The school district has multiple buildings and parking lots, all of which are used to determine how much is owed in stormwater fees. And when local governments began discussing charging the fees, school officials were one of the groups that came to local meetings to talk about the impact, Sonntag said.

“Once we learned about it, it was a hard pill to swallow,” he said.

They understood that users were being charged the fee, but they also made the point that schools are local governments and are funded by tax dollars, he said. But during the past few years, local communities have started charging the fees to homeowners, business owners and local governments.

For Clark-Pleasant schools, the fees came at a time the school district also was losing money to property tax caps and only receiving a set amount from the state, making it harder to afford an added bill that is similar to what the school district also pays in sewer and water fees, Sonntag said.

“It was like a triple whammy,” he said.

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