Our City Council is planning to take more of your money, this time via a stormwater runoff fee on the water bill. For residents, the tiered fee structure ranges from $1.20 to $3.40 per month and is based on the square footage of your home’s roofline. Barring any Council input from their voters, this new tax will be charged starting October 1, 2018.
This latest involuntary tax was proposed at the February 13 City Council meeting, with MRT’s first article appearing on February 19. On March 27, the first reading and public hearing were held to create a new “Municipal Drainage Utility,” which would declare City of Midland drainage as a public utility. The second reading, which passes the ordinance and makes it official, is April 10.
Is the city generating revenue for a Stormwater Fund or to free up other dollars for a new Slush Fund? Voters just passed the $100,000,000 Road Bond which was supposed to catch up the city on long overdue maintenance, both on and under the streets. During this process, there was no mention of needing to make a new stormwater tax, the $20,000,000 near-term maintenance needs, or the $81,000,000 long-term stormwater system upgrades referenced in the MRT Articles on 3/27/2018 and 7/12/2016. The “4B…For What” campaign told voters how the city could build new parks if voters gave the Council carte blanche with tax revenue, but now we see that there are other spending priorities.
On February 21, 2018, MRT reported the city’s oil & gas lease bonus payments and royalties received. Since 2016, the General Fund and Water & Sewer Fund have received $5,119,103. The future revenue projections are expected to increase as more wells are drilled and completed on city leases. Instead of using this money to make repairs to stormwater systems, the Midland City Council has decided to tax residents more.
MRT reported that Midland budgeted only $1,500 for stormwater drainage maintenance and $0 for capital improvements—lower than any other Texas peer city. Where does all the money go? In typical City of Midland operating practices, maintenance is deferred on everything while money is blown on new capital projects. Instead of spending money on essential and necessary improvements, our City Council spends money on frivolous pipe dreams and then asks voters to pay separately for essentials.
During the last two years, the city spent $800k on the Spaceport, undisclosed fees and waivers on the dry-hole Hotel Santa Rita, and $45,000,000 on a new downtown convention center which ties up hotel/motel tax revenues until long after the current Council’s reign. Currently the fainéant Midland Development Corp levies a 0.25% sales tax and has a General Fund balance of $51,000,000 from the last published audited financials. Perhaps this tax could be scrapped and replaced with one that keeps the stormwater burden off property owners. Better yet, the city could partially fund stormwater maintenance by fining outdoor water violators whose water pours down the streets and sidewalks, further exacerbating runoff problems according to the City’s Engineering Manager.
I can hear the objections: 4B and hotel/motel tax have specific state-mandated constraints on their expenditures and that these examples are not valid. What frustrates me is that the City has a spending problem with other people’s money; the stormwater tax hike is but another symptom. Midland will continue to grow rapidly as more wells are drilled and the Permian Basin fuels America. While I fully support plans to develop and grow Midland, the City Council has demonstrated its ability to grow debt and waste money.
Tuesday, April 10 at 10:00am is the second reading of the ordinance at the City Council meeting when the proposed tax could become real. Although the City Council’s meetings are essentially inaccessible to those who work due to the time, their phones and emails are not. I urge readers to contact their Councilman and ask them to vote against this new stormwater ordinance.