By Patricia Bogumil

Interim editor

When about 50 people show up for a midweek municipal meeting, that’s considered a crowd even by big city standards.

On Nov. 16, about 50 Rochester residents turned out for a special Village Board meeting at which the Board approved a new ordinance to create a storm water utility (SWU).

The Board’s move follows years of growing drainage problems and studies about them, as well as months of public meetings and newsletter communications to residents.

The most immediate result of last week’s action will be a new taxing entity on the 2012 tax bills for all property owners in the Village of Rochester, including those often tax-exempt, such as churches and schools.

All properties are being assessed a storm water utility charge on the basis of what engineers have calculated to be an average impervious area or equivalent runoff unit (ERU) for each kind of property.

Single-family homeowners will pay a 2012 annual assessment of $65. Owners of larger properties will pay more.

Over the next 10 years, the SWU annual assessments will raise a yearly average of about $109,000 for a variety of needed projects, said Chris Birkett, the village’s Superintendent of the Department of Public Works.

The SWU’s segregated funds can be used only for storm water management projects, he noted. These involve streets, curbs, gutters, detention/retention ponds, pipes, berms and similar physical facilities, as well as equipment, staff and programs to maintain them.

Several different watershed areas in the village have been targeted for needing utility work in the next few years, according to Birkett.

The biggest project – expected to break ground in 2013 – will repair the Ag School Drainage Tile system around the downtown area. Repairing and replacing drain tiles that initially were installed as early as 1908 will get rid of some flooding and drainage problems that have been damaging local roads, according to Birkett.

Other projects being studied include the Eagle Creek Drainage in the southeast corner of the village; drainage issues involving Honey Creek; studies of North River Road and East Fox Street drainage and improvements; and some projects on the west side of the village.

The SWU funds will also be used to maintain established systems, like storm sewers in the downtown and some of the subdivision drainage areas where the village has an easement through which to correct and clean, Birkett said.

About 1,400 property owners are in the new SWU, said Birkett. About 200 of these are also in the Norway Dover Farm Drainage District.

The new SWU will be run by the Village Board and be more responsive to citizen concerns than happens with the Farm Drainage District, whose commissioners are appointed by a Circuit Court Judge, Birkett predicted.

Village residents can just call to be on a meeting agenda, where they can speak directly to the Board and afterward their issues will be looked into, explained Birkett.

Concerns were expressed Nov. 16 about the advisability of creating a new taxing entity, Birkett noted.

“There’s the cost and I think people are just wary about another fee that could become exorbitant and get out of hand, and justifiably so.”

But village officials believe the best way forward is to “get ahead of the curve” to correct problems while they’re still small “so that in 25 years we don’t have a big problem that’s going to be exorbitant to fix,” he said.

“But it can make for a tough sell,” Birkett added.