ROCKVILLE — City residents can expect fee increases for stormwater management, drinking water, sewage, parking in the Town Center and trash and recycle to rise over the next year if a proposal by city staff is adopted in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget.
On Monday night, the city’s deputy director of finance Stacey Webster offered a second preview for the still-to-be-completed budget, which included a 5 percent increase in the annual stormwater management fee for all commercial and residential properties in the city.
That roughly equals $127.70 per residential unit, an increase from $121.60 in FY ’16.
It is part of a steady rise dating back to FY ’10, the first year the city charged a stormwater management fee. Back then, it was $40.00.
“The fee we are proposing is consistent with that adopted by the mayor and council in 2012,” said Webster.
City staff also proposed raising the parking district tax rate from 33 cents per $100 of assessed value to 35 cents.
According to a city budget document, “This increase is being driven by the City’s plan to upgrade the street meter payment infrastructure in Town Square. Staff expects the upgrade to include smart meters, the elimination of coins and manual coin collection, and easier administration of the entire parking meter system.”
If city officials consider the Town Square system successful, it “will be deployed to the rest of the City’s street meters,” with $196,000 expected in projected in tax revenue.
The document states, “Future rate increases are planned for FY 2019 and FY 2021. The total cost for the meter upgrade is approximately $600,000.”
The sewage fee would increase 12 percent from FY ’16, rising to $8.23 per 1,000 gallons.
Meanwhile, the Refuse Fund, which includes collecting and disposing of residential recycling, trash and yard waste, would rise from an annual rate of $400 in FY ’16 to $424.
“We are currently reviewing our utility billing practices for refuse fees and looking at the possibility of putting the refuse fees on the property tax bill. If we do this, we will see a savings in the Refuse Fund,” said Webster.
Although the city’s elected officials and staffers alike have said they do not expect property taxes to rise this year, the fees would still amount to an increased year cost for city homeowners.
Webster said the proposed FY 2017 operating budget totals about $126.1 million, which is a 2.2 percent increase from the FY 2016 adopted budget. A 3 percent increase in property assessments is also due to add another $1.2 million to the city’s general fund, with $39.6 million expected in total property tax revenue.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said Tuesday the proposed fee hikes caught her by surprise.
The mayor did not take a definitive stance on the proposed fee hikes other than to say she planned to examine the issue.
“I was stunned last night to hear the increases,” she said Tuesday at the General Assembly, while standing outside of a Senate committee hearing.
She appeared in Annapolis to testify in favor of Senate Bill 719, which would force public properties to pay storm-water management fees in cities like Rockville, which is the County seat.
Newton left before the hearing but in prepared remarks said Rockville “is especially hard hit by this lack of equity as we are the County seat, home to lots of government-owned buildings, numerous school properties,” including the Montgomery County Public Schools headquarters and a Montgomery College campus.
“The negative impact to Rockville’s stormwater management program is substantial – revenue losses in FY 16 are projected to be $509,000 – and $535,000 for FY 17 – and the difference is being made up by our private property owners – clearly an unfair burden.”
Opponents of the bill called it “redundant” and noted public systems are “fiscally dependent” on tax revenue.
“The county-owned properties are already subject to mitigation,” said Natasha Mehu, a policy analyst with the Maryland Association of Counties.
Newton said her policy in the city is to “provide the level of service Rockville residents reserve and expect.” She noted service fees have raised multiple times during her tenure on the city council, dating back to 2009.
The mayor said the City Council should look at the “unintended consequences” of rate hike in part because they could be a potential problem for ratepayers on a fixed income.
“I think we need to take a look at each one of these proposed increases, not individually, but as a group and look at their impacts on individual property owners in the city.”
Also included in the FY ’17 budget are two new capital improvement program items due to run through FY ’21: $362,500 for renovating the city’s skate park and $285,000 for upgrading the traffic signal at East Jefferson Street and Rollins Avenue.
Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau said the target date to post the budget online is March 8.