Albany is a growing community. Past and future development of land (in the form of roads, parking lots, buildings, etc.) results in more and more impervious surface area. These surfaces prevent water from soaking into the ground and cause a significant increase in the volume of water that runs off the land when it rains. This runoff also contains pollution which affects the water quality of local waterways and ultimately the Calapooia and Willamette rivers. This pollution is the focus of state and federal stormwater regulations. In Albany, most stormwater flows from private property to a stormwater grate in the street where it drops into a pipe and is carried, untreated, to the nearest waterway. The network of stormwater pipes is completely separate from the sanitary sewer system.
These stormwater pipes must be maintained and replaced over time, just like pipes for the water and sewer systems. Similar to owning a home or vehicle, it takes effort and financial resources to properly operate and maintain a stormwater system. Costs include general operation and maintenance, replacement of failing or undersized infrastructure, and complying with state and federal regulations. All of these costs increase over time as a community grows and infrastructure ages.
A dedicated source of revenue is critical to cover such costs. Commonly, communities form a stormwater utility and implement service charges, a funding source that is stable and dedicated to stormwater system management. Approximately 40 Oregon communities, including Albany, have stormwater utilities with separate charges for stormwater service ranging for a typical home from $1.00 per month in Sweet Home to $30.01 per month in Portland (2018 rates). Much like water and sewer utilities, users of the system pay a service charge for stormwater service. Service charges are collected through utility bills, based on a rate structure adopted by each community.
The City of Albany created a stormwater utility in 2017. Rates were first set at levels meant to produce enough revenue to fund activities that had been paid for with sewer and street funds. The City Council chose to launch the stormwater utility at the lowest funding level possible and grow the program slowly over time. In 2017, staff estimated that stormwater utility fees would need to double within five years to cover costs before considering inflation. Those increases include costs related to complying with state and federal regulations, replacing failing pipes, and constructing stormwater improvements when streets are improved.