Over the last week, I have been flooded with calls from residents in gated communities regarding stormwater fees and repairs. I hope that I can clear up the concerns many of you have on this issue.
First, the Town of Hilton Head Island has had a smooth and cooperative working relationship with management groups in gated communities for many years. Town staff does its best to respond to the needs of residents living in these neighborhoods, just as it does for residents who live in non-gated neighborhoods.
Second, our working relationship on stormwater stretches back to 2001, when the town, along with Beaufort County and the other municipalities, formed a stormwater utility, which is used to address and manage stormwater problems.
The town shares an agreement with the county to collect its stormwater fees as part of residents’ property taxes. Only owners of real property within town limits pay the fee. The stormwater fee is based primarily on a property’s impervious ground cover, but also the gross parcel area and a set administrative component.
These fees collected from property owners go into a dedicated fund to specifically pay for managing, regulating, maintaining, and improving stormwater infrastructure and systems. A fundamental objective in establishing this user fee and offering the provision of services was an attainment of equity and good governance.
Over time, the town entered into drainage agreements with several of the 11 gated communities or planned unit developments (PUD) on the island. This is atypical from most other stormwater utilities. But, our past Town Councils thought it would be fair and reasonable, given the unique nature of development on Hilton Head, to offer stormwater services to PUDs, where the large majority of stormwater utility fee payers reside.
Service has been provided under the PUD agreements for several years and the PUD agreements have been revised in the past without great alarm.
In an effort to enhance clarity for the administration of services under these agreements, as some loopholes or nuances of meaning had been realized over the years, the town drafted minor revisions for an updated standard agreement.
This was presented to a Town Council subcommittee and then to the current PUD agreement partners, along with clear explanations and rationale regarding each change. Neither the town’s basic level of responsibility nor basic level of service provided are being reduced, but they are being better defined.
In taking this step, we are creating the opportunity for those communities we do not have agreements with to consider adopting a formal arrangement.
The stormwater utility provides for a very important public service being offered to the residents of Hilton Head. We have inventoried 337 miles of drainage pipes and ditches and over 10,000 drainage structures on the island; the vast majority lie within the PUDs.
We have solicited comments from the current agreement partners, met with them to explain the changes, are granting them more time to review the changes and will consider their input in finalizing a revised standard agreement. We hope to continue to partner with these communities and others to provide these important services to our citizens.
We offer to maintain the functional conveyance of those qualifying drainage systems providing public benefit, but will not expend public funds on addressing issues such as aesthetics, or repairing damages caused by the negligence of others, nuisance or yard flooding that does not pose any public safety hazard or cause tangible property damage, or addressing non-stormwater issues such as tidal erosion.
As overseers of public funds, the town must hold the discretion of seeing that the work and these funds are properly and equitably dispersed.
John McCann is mayor of the Town of Hilton Head Island.