Facing a $750,000 shortfall in annual stormwater maintenance funding over the next two years, the City Council has directed city staff to explore several ways to permanently fund the important maintenance projects, which include clearing drains and streams to prevent flooding.
Since last July, the city has been funding such projects through an $800,000 loan from another city fund. The move came in response to a lawsuit by former City Councilmember Bryant Moynihan.
In the suit, Moynihan said that stormwater maintenance activities should be paid through the city’s general fund, not the rate-payer-funded sewer, or wastewater, account, as the city had been doing. When the city agreed to quit using money from the wastewater fund for certain activities, it began the interfund loan as a way to temporarily continue stormwater maintenance projects.
But Public Works Director Dan St. John was quick to point out that the loan allowed for only minimal maintenance efforts and stressed the need to come up with a permanent funding source in order to keep pace with flood control.
“We did nothing on capital projects and nothing on long-term planning studies last year,” said St. John. “We need to come up with a way to fund this work permanently. Some of the benefits the city receives from stormwater maintenance are flood control and prevention, water quality and wildlife, marsh and ravine protection. It benefits all of us, whether it’s keeping someone’s property from flooding, or keeping the streets from flooding.”
Much of Petaluma is in a floodplain, so stormwater maintenance, including cleaning debris out of the Petaluma River, city creeks, street drains and other areas is important to protecting residences and businesses as well. But maintaining these problem areas on a regular basis has been an ongoing financial challenge for the city.
Some of the ideas bandied about at a recent special City Council meeting on stormwater maintenance included extending the interfund loan and asking voters for a future sales tax increase. But the most-discussed option at the meeting was creating a stormwater utility fee that would be paid by residents and businesses to fund future projects.