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Controversy over storm water funds

The City Council on Monday was presented with a report on its stormwater fund, prompting controversy and condemnation from the author of Measure U, the failed November ballot initiative to roll back sewer rates.

In spring 2010, the city hired a consultant, HDR Engineering, to evaluate the city's approach to funding its stormwater operations, which include storm drain and stormwater system maintenance.

The fund is somewhat controversial because the city pays for stormwater maintenance and operations using money from sewer rates that residents pay. Stormwater funding is currently about $820,000 per year, or about 2 percent of the sewer utility's budget.

"The analysis was sought, in part, to answer questions regarding whether it is appropriate to use Wastewater Utility funding to support the costs of storm drain and stormwater system maintenance," said a staff report.

The city has said that the use of the funds is appropriate because the wastewater and stormwater systems are interrelated. Maintenance of storm drains helps prevent infiltration into the sewer system and reduces sewer maintenance costs, the city said.

On Monday, the consultant seconded that contention.

The report stated that the city's funding of the stormwater system through sewer rates is "reasonable" and that it is "consistent with how many other municipalities fund storm water programs."

But former council member and Measure U author Bryant Moynihan disagreed.

"The city for ten years has misappropriated money and never had a public vote about it," said Moynihan, who urged the council to "reject the report."

Moynihan pointed to the city of Salinas, which he said was successfully sued by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association for much the same situation.

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