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Are you confused about your stormwater fee? You're not the only one

Posted at 6:54 PM, Feb 16, 2022

Do you know the amount of impervious surface on your property?

How about an equivalent residential unit, or ERU?

Those tongue twisters are part of the formula used to calculate the new stormwater fee that appeared for the first time on your utility bill.

If it sounds confusing, you're not the only one who thinks so.

“I have to carry around a cheat sheet now so that everybody who calls me and asks me about how to explain this and, you know, it's -- you've got to have notes in front of you to be able to explain it to them,” said Corpus Christi City Councilmember At-Large Mike Pusley during Tuesday’s weekly council meeting.

Stormwater fee Mike Pusley

The fee is based off your property's estimated impervious surface area -- areas that won't absorb water, such as driveways and patios. The stormwater fee is based on the city’s estimate of 50 percent of rainwater being absorbed by grass, and 50 percent of it running off of the impervious areas and into the city’s stormwater drains.

“The .5 is telling us, during a rainfall, we expect 50 percent of the water to infiltrate into your ground and 50 percent to come to our infrastructure,” said city of Corpus Christi Asst. Public Works Director Gabriel Hinojosa during Tuesday’s meeting.

City councilors such as Greg Smith and Gil Hernandez questioned using a rate structure based on estimated square footage.

“We’re just arbitrarily saying, if you have a 6,000 sq. ft. lot, you have 3,000 sq. ft. of impermeable,” Greg Smith said, “whether you have 500 (sq. ft.) or 6,000. Is that correct?”

To which Hinojosa answered that major cities such as San Antonio and Dallas use, and Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni said this industry standard makes sense at this point in the program’s infancy.

“So, right now, we’re starting on this simpler method,” he said. “We can do something like that (measuring each property’s exact amount impervious land), we can look at (it.)”

Stormwater fee Greg Smith question

Once the property’s square footage is established, the home or building, which the city classifies as an equivalent residential unit — or ERU – then is put into one of three tiers:

  • Tier 1 has fewer than 3,000 sq. ft. of impermeable area and pays $4.59
  • Tier 2 has between 3,000 and 4,500 sq. ft. of impermeable area and pays $6.12 a month
  • Tier 3 has more than 4,500 sq. ft. and pays $10.71 a month
  • Businesses are charged at $6.12 monthly per ERU.

"There are a number of people who are confused by it, how to figure what their stormwater bill and their water bill should look like," Pusley said.

Many Corpus Christi residents are confused by the new fee, which former city councilman David Loeb said is understandable.

"I think the confusion is they rushed the process,” he said. “(They) didn't have public hearings, and so nobody knows what it is. It's just a new charge on their bill."

And while it was designed to save people money, many are paying more with the new fee.

"Three-quarters of residential customers and three-quarters of commercial customers saw an overall bill increase because of this,” Loeb said. “There's a huge amount of inequity in it. I think it deserves discussion and reform."

Pusley said there will be discussions, and if changes need to be made, they need to be made.

"If after a few months this is not working out and we're still having problems, then I think the city council needs to address it with staff, and see what adjustments we need to make," he said.

If you think there is an issue with your water bill total, there is a number you can call to talk with city officials about it: (361) 561-1100.

The city also has an appeals process in place: 93 appeals to reduce a bill have already been made -- 43 of those were granted.