Some Burbank residents are perplexed after receiving a storm water utility bill from Walla Walla County.
"We get 7 inches of rain a year," said John Umbarger of Burbank.
Umbarger said he and about other 10 Burbank residents who meet regularly for coffee all were surprised by the $36 bill.
The storm water utility fee is new, although county commissioners approved it in 2009, said Joy Bader, county storm water program manager.
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That has caused a lot of questions from landowners who wonder why they are paying a fee for a storm water utility when they have no storm water drains along their property, Bader said. The county plans two public meetings this week to answer citizens' questions.
After all, unincorporated Walla Walla County lacks storm water drains, curbs and receives little rain in Burbank, Umbarger said.
He said people want to know what benefits they will get from paying the bill.
Storm water management is countywide because there is no one source of pollution, Bader said. The storm water utility is a way for the county to pay for the effort.
"These are countywide changes that we are asking everybody in the county to pay for," Bader said.
The result will be cleaner water, which benefits everyone, she said. And the county's streets should be flooded less often.
The county's main concern is sediment being washed into creeks, rivers and other bodies of water, Bader said.
The fee will help cover costs of meeting state Department of Ecology requirements, Bader said. A National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, issued in 2007, requires the county to set up management programs by February 2012.
The costliest requirement is changing county operations to better manage runoff, Bader said. The county also must use best management practices during such construction as road projects.
Roads also must be more frequently swept to remove pollutants before rain can wash them into creeks and rivers, she said.
Most property owners should have received the bills, which were sent last week, Bader said. Payments are due May 31 at the treasurer's office.
A single-family home will be assessed $36 yearly, while other properties are assessed based on the square footage of impervious areas such as paving, parking lots, roofs and concrete, which produce runoff, Bader said. Those properties, including businesses, industries, farms and apartment buildings, will pay $36 for every 5,000 square feet of such areas.
The fee is assessed on developed properties in unincorporated areas, Bader said. It doesn't apply to property in incorporated cities such as Walla Walla, College Place, Waitsburg and Prescott. Larger cities and towns have to obtain a state permit and manage their storm water.
Properties with their own storm water permits and management, such as Boise Cascade, also are exempt from the fee, Bader said.
The county will continue using about $340,000 from the county road fund to operate and maintain the county storm water system.
The $350,000 collected annually from the fee will help pay for Department of Ecology mandates.
The Columbia-Burbank School District also was caught off guard by its $1,100 bill for storm water.
Debbie Williams, Columbia-Burbank School District business manager, said she intends to attend today's public meeting to find out more.
It would have been better to have public comment and meetings before bills were sent, Umbarger said, but the bills came without warning.
Walla Walla County Public Works has set a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. today at the Columbia-Burbank High School library, 787 Maple St., in Burbank, and at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the county commission chambers, room 203 of the Walla Walla County Public Heath and Legislative Building, at 314 W. Main St., in Walla Walla.
For more information, call the public works department at 509-534-2710 or visit www.wallawallastormwater.com.