Determining Your Baseline Stormwater Budget

Stormwater Management Roles and Responsibilities

A stormwater user fee is designed to recover the program costs an entity incurs in delivering stormwater management services. To determine a holistic estimate of stormwater program costs, it is essential to have a grasp of how stormwater service responsibilities are organized. Typically stormwater service is delivered through various organizational and governance approaches. The three most common examples found in local government are outlined below:

  • Reside entirely within one department or division (Example: the Water/Sewer Division in Newark, NJ is responsible for all stormwater management activities).
  • Reside in multiple departments or divisions.
  • Shared with neighboring communities, local water and sewer authorities, county / state government, federal agencies and partnering organizations.​​

Therefore, when assessing whether or not a stormwater fee makes sense for a community or jurisdiction – understanding who is responsible, what are the various budgets where stormwater related costs are embedded and what revenue sources support existing stormwater activities – are all critical in identifying the local “baseline stormwater budget.”

Stormwater Activities

Click below for a description of the stormwater activities that may be included in a community’s baseline stormwater budget:

  • Conveyance and collection (i.e. stormwater inlets and pipes)
  • Open Channels and Culverts
  • Best Management Practices, Stormwater Facilities, Green Infrastructure
  • Permit Administration and Reporting
  • Inspections, Monitoring and Enforcement
  • Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination
  • Good Housekeeping and Pollution Prevention
  • Street Sweeping
  • System Replacement and Expansion
  • Water Quality Projects
  • Equipment Purchase and Replacement
  • Land Acquisition
  • Administration
  • Condition Assessment and Asset Management
  • System Mapping and GIS
  • Flood plain and natural drainageways O&M
  • Dams, Levees, Floodwalls, Pump Stations
  • Engineering Design
  • Resiliency Planning, Climate Adaptation, and Watershed Planning
  • Stormwater Ordinance Review and Enforcement
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Public Education and Outreach

Current Budgeting/Reporting

Stormwater management related costs may be inherent in the budgets of multiple departments/divisions or may be clearly delineated in a separate single stormwater budget. The budgeting of stormwater costs is subject to various factors including the departments/divisions that are involved in rendering stormwater services, how the entities are organized, accounting practices and policies, and other factors.

Therefore, understanding the configuration of how stormwater services are rendered, and where stormwater costs are inherent, can be an important first step. Identifying stormwater costs can entail reviewing budget documentation across departments, interviewing staff, and reviewing work orders, maintenance records, and timesheet records where available.

Beyond material and equipment costs, the mix of resources supporting stormwater activities may include employees, consultants and contractors, all of which may (or may not) be reported separately for budgeting and accounting purposes and be funded via different revenue streams.

When developing their baseline stormwater budget, communities should not be discouraged by a lack of detailed information or services that are not clearly delineated. Using readily available information, costs can be estimated and allocated until detailed cost tracking can be put into place.

Note: The Water Environment Federation’s special publication “User Fee Funded Stormwater Programs,” second edition (2013) provides a useful discussion on defining program elements and costs, in Chapter 3 – Feasibility Study. See our Resources section for further WEF resources.

Stormwater Cost Recovery Decisions

Utilities must carefully evaluate and decide on which Operations and Maintenance (O&M) activities and capital project expenditures will be included in the program costs that are to be recovered through a dedicated stormwater user fee funding mechanism. It is equally important to define O&M costs that are recurring annual costs versus one-time costs, such as developing an asset inventory, or commissioning a specific stormwater study initiative. In addition, any potential phasing-in of O&M costs to ramp up level of service should also be considered.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when developing the program budget. Examples of the various factors that need to be considered in defining a program budget include:

  • The current level of service;
  • Anticipated program needs to solve community problems, water quality issues, and regulatory requirements;
  • Desired level of service enhancements over time;
  • Personnel and non-personnel resource requirements;
  • Capital improvement program to address drainage infrastructure and systems;
  • Potential capacity to generate revenues from diverse funding sources including user fees; and
  • Other local and legal considerations.​​

While local governments have some flexibility in defining related policies, communities should exercise due diligence in planning and in developing a defensible and actionable program budget.

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