The City’s Drainage Assistance Program

The number of requests for Drainage Assistance Projects and larger capital projects to solve street flooding and neighborhood drainage issues grows each year.  

Blair Hinkle, Stromwater Manager

.  .  .  .  .  .


The City Council of the City of Raleigh met in a work session at 1:00 p.m. on Monday, March 21, 2016 in the City Council Chamber, Room 201 of the Raleigh Municipal Building, Avery C. Upchurch Government Complex, 222 W. Hargett Street, Raleigh, North Carolina, with the following present.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane, Presiding

Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin

Councilor Corey D. Branch

Councilor David Cox

Councilor Kay C. Crowder

Councilor Bonner Gaylord (Arrived late)

Councilor Russ Stephenson

Councilor Dickie Thompson


These are summary minutes unless otherwise indicated.

Mayor McFarlane called the meeting to order.

City Manager Ruffin Hall indicated this is the second in a series of budget preview meetings. He gave a brief overview of the items to be presented at today’s meeting and indicated Staff will request that Council approve the user fee recommendations, which will be presented later in the meeting.

Interim Budget Manager Ben Canada gave a brief description of the items to be presented at today’s meeting noting copies of Staff’s PowerPoint presentations were included in the agenda packets. Mr. Canada also introduced the staff members making the presentations.

The following items were discussed with actions taken as shown.


Stormwater Manager Blair Hinkle presented the following information:

Good afternoon.

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to talk about the Stormwater Program.

The goals for this presentation are to:

  1. Briefly discuss the Stormwater Program’s five major service areas;
  2. Provide a few budget highlights;
  3. Discuss our service pressure points and what we see as opportunities for improvement to our level of service;
  4. And finally, to talk about where we are in terms of our rate, and some opportunities that we see there;

So, to begin, a general overview of the Stormwater Management Program:

Stormwater Program provides external service in five areas:


  1. CIP or Infrastructure Projects – Large stormwater projects affecting public infrastructure;
  2. Drainage Assistance Program – City participates with private property owners to partially fund infrastructure improvements on private property;
  3. Water Quality – NPDES Permit management, water sampling, GIS/Inventory program, public education;
  4. Stormwater Development Review & Inspections – Review and inspection services ensuring compliance with City & State regulations;
    1. Also administers our flood plain program and manages flood hazard mitigation grants;
  5. Maintenance.


City’s in-house stormwater maintenance capability is provided by the Transportation Field Services Division of the Public Works Department and is funded by the Stormwater Utility at a level of about $3 million annually.


Services they provide include:


  1. Culvert, pipe, and catch basin repair and replacement, generally within the right of way;
  2. And street sweeping.


Much of our responsiveness to smaller projects and repairs within the right of way hinges on the availability of these crews.


I wanted to start our conversation about the budget with a chart showing impervious area growth over the life of the Stormwater utility.



You’ll notice the term SFEU on this slide and hear me use it several times throughout this presentation – this is our billing unit, and one SFEU is equal to 2,260 sf of impervious area. And that number, 2,260 sf of impervious area, is the average impervious area coverage on an average single-family residential lot in the City.


So, putting all of that together, this chart is showing a 3-4% annual increase in impervious area within the City of the last 12 years.


Doing the math, this equates to a total increase of 125,000 SFEUs or 282.5 mil sf, or, as a percentage, about a 50% increase.


While that equates to growth in revenues, it also means that the stormwater system is being placed under more and more pressure since increased IA results in increased runoff volumes and decreased water quality.


We charge $4.00 per SFEU per month to fund the stormwater program, and we have about 127,000 customers.


  • – The majority of our customers (~84,000) is within our average residential tier and pay $4.00 per month ($48/yr.).
  • – Our 18,000 commercial, industrial, and institutional customers pay based on actual impervious area, calculated at $4.00/SFEU (or 2,260 sf of IA).


At this rate, compared to other municipalities throughout the state, were below both the average rate of $5.00 and the median rate of $4.50 per unit.



You can see that stormwater rates across the state range fairly widely, from Greensboro’s $2.70 per unit to Charlotte’s $10.18 per unit.   The State stormwater rates – chart is a cross section of cities across the state, includes other 5 Phase 1 communities (Greensboro, Fayetteville, Winston, Durham, and Charlotte).


Expanding our view to the national level, we can see that Raleigh’s rate is also below the average and median among the 78 respondents to a well-known national 2014 survey completed by Black & Veatch.



For this data set, the average rate was $5.87 per unit, and the median rate was $5.00. It’s important to note that some of the municipalities with much higher rates (Seattle is the highest) have combined sewer systems, so some of this revenue is utilized to manage the unique challenges associated with those types of systems. The National stormwater rates – chart is all cities that submitted information for the 2014 Black & Veatch national survey (78).


How do we put the money collected to use?


In 2016 it was about a 1/3 split between operating costs, inter-fund transfers, and capital investments.


  1. Just over 33% ($6 million) of our budget went to inter-fund transfers; including:
    1. $3 million to TFS for stormwater maintenance activities;
    2. $2.9 million to indirect cost allocation to pay for things like use of the Customer Care and Billing system, billing office, Finance, and other internal services that we utilize.
  2. 32% ($5.7 million) was transferred to our Capital Fund.
  3. 35% ($6 million) went toward personnel and operating costs.


Looking more specifically at the Capital Fund, over the life of the utility (FY2004 through FY2015), the City has invested a total of $53.5 million into stormwater projects over the last twelve years. This total includes:


  1. $13 million in Neighborhood Drainage Improvements
  2. $12.2 million in Lake Preservation Projects
  3. $4.1 million in Flood Hazard Mitigation purchases
  4. $3.8 million in General Drainage Infrastructure Projects
  5. $3.1 million in Drainage Petition Cost Share Projects


It’s interesting to look at Capital funding versus capital expenses over the life of the utility:



  1. Early in the program, funding substantially outpaced expenditures.
    1. This is not uncommon for new utilities – a significant new funding source coupled with large lead-time projects and a small staff to produce a large backlog.
  2. Over the last several years, capital spending has outpaced funding, indicating that we’ve turned the corner towards drawing down our project backlog.
    1. A big part of this has been getting project management resources and processes in place, which we’ve done over the last three years.


Looking more directly at the Program’s project backlog, you can see that we project about a $2 million decrease from the FY15 level by the end of this Fiscal Year.



Moving forward though FY19, we expect to reach a much more sustainable level of about $5-10 million in rollover funding year-to-year, just because so many of our projects can’t be completed within one year.


There are a number of very large projects that will be completed over the next two to three years that make up the majority of our backlog.


It’s important to note that this backlog drawdown is in addition to the new projects that we’re proposing in a more aggressive 5-year CIP, which we’ll discuss in just a few minutes.




Brockton Lake – 2 phases; $4.2m

Swift Dr. – $3m+

Lower Longview Lake Dam – $3m

Laurel Hills Dam – $2.5m

Capital Inn Act. – $1.3m

Audubon Dr. Drainage – $1.3m

Drainage Petition Projects – $1.2m

Top 3 projects = 30%

Top 10 = 60%


The number of requests for Drainage Assistance Projects and larger capital projects to solve street flooding and neighborhood drainage issues grows each year.


Our current inability to respond quickly to anything other than very minor infrastructure failures within the right of way leads to extended lane and street closures (Crabtree Blvd is a great example, a lane has been closed for over a year, though I’m happy to report that a design is wrapping up and we’ll be to work there relatively soon).


And, finally, there’s an increasing recognition that, as Raleigh continues to grow, we have to be more holistic in solving stormwater problems. This includes expanding our Drainage Assistance Project scopes to solve broader problems and incorporating innovative approaches like LID into our stormwater solutions.


If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because we’ve had some of these discussions before.


Shortly after starting with the City, I had the pleasure of speaking with you at last year’s budget work session:


  • – Talked then about our level of service, and areas in which we could make improvement
  • – And we committed to reviewing various program areas within Stormwater, working with the SMAC to develop options for policy revisions, and bringing those to you.


The first program area that we delved into was the Drainage Assistance Program, and we discussed our high-level recommendations with you back at the November work session.


To expand a little bit on that process with the Drainage Assistance Program:


We started with getting the SMAC’s high level feedback on the opportunities and challenges of the program, and we used this to frame the high level recommendations that we discussed with you at the November work session.


The next step in the process will be for SMAC to consider the detailed policy revisions, and provide a recommendation back to Council.


Before it returns to the full Council for consideration, though, we think it’s best for it to be referred to the Growth & Natural Resources Committee; and that is one of the actions that I’ll be recommending at the end of this presentation.


Zooming back out a little bit to the broader discussion of ways in which Stormwater can provide better service, we see three major ways that we can provide increased levels of service in the short term:


First, the changes that we’ll be recommending related to the Drainage Assistance Program will allow us apply the program more broadly, and to expand the scopes of those projects to correct the causes of problems, rather than just their symptoms. We look forward to bringing those to the Growth & Natural Resources Committee in late April or early May if it’s Council’s desire to refer the matter there.


Second, we can, with slightly increased revenues from a rate adjustment, provide for a more aggressive level of capital project delivery and more timely responsiveness to infrastructure failures.


Finally, in order to be as aggressive as possible in delivering new projects, we are proposing the allocation of accrued fund balance over the next five years to further supplement funding of our Capital program.


So, let’s dig into the details of these proposed levels of service increases.


On the operational side, we’re proposing the addition of two new Stormwater Construction Crews in the Transportation Field Services Division.


  • – As we talked about a few slides ago, Stormwater currently provides about $3 million per year in funding to support the existing capability related to stormwater maintenance
  • – These new crews would require an additional $1.3 million per year
  • – Once these positions are filled, they will allow us to respond immediately to larger infrastructure failures, rather than having to go through the process of hiring consultants and bidding projects out for construction. (which is a timeline that takes at least months)
  • – When these crews are not responding to priority issues within the right of way, they’ll be able to complete Drainage Assistance Projects and small infrastructure projects, significantly reducing the cost of those projects which they’re able to address, and freeing those capital resources up for other projects
  • – In addition to the increase in responsiveness, we would anticipate that these crews could complete about 20-25 projects per year.


On the capital side:


  • – As we talked about in November, the SMAC recommended increasing funding of the Drainage Assistance Program by $500,000 per year
    • – And staff concurs with that recommendation
    • – Funded at a level of $1.25 million per year and paired with the policy revisions that we’ll be bringing forward, we’ll be able to expand project scopes and reach further down the priority list each year
    • – With the project management and construction inspection resources that have been added to the program over the last two years, we’re now positioned well to manage a larger more aggressive capital project workload.
    • – And finally, we need to do a better job of funding our watershed master planning efforts in order to find broader solutions to the stormwater problems that some neighborhoods are facing


So what would the funding side of a more aggressive capital investment program look like?



As I mentioned earlier, in order to be as aggressive as possible and front-load our proposed CIP with projects that have been on the books for a while.


  • – We believe that an additional $3 million from the revenue increase is sufficient when paired with an annual fund balance allocation ranging from $2.2 million in FY17 down to $300,000 in FY21


These two funding sources would provide between $5.2 and 3.3 million additional dollars per year to be invested directly into capital improvements to the stormwater system


And the results could be significant in terms of increased project delivery



This table compares our current 5-year CIP to our more aggressive proposed 5-year CIP, and is broken down by project type.   Moving from left to right, you’ll see:


  • – The project type
  • – The amount devoted to projects under our current CIP
  • – The amount we’re proposing to devote under the proposed CIP
  • – The percent change in funding level
  • – And the number of additional projects that we anticipate being able to fund under this more aggressive level of service


Our proposed CIP includes:


  • – A 100% increase in funding for the Flood Hazard Mitigation program, which will allow for the acquisition of more or larger flood-prone properties each year
  • – A significant increase in the generic “Stormwater System Repairs” account, which is a reserve fund to fix unexpected, high priority failures.
  • – Capability to complete additional watershed master planning activities
  • – The addition of a number of additional Street Drainage, Neighborhood Drainage, and Water Quality Improvement projects
  • – And finally, as mentioned earlier, an expansion of the Drainage Assistance Program, both in terms of number of projects and project scopes
    • – One important note is that the estimated number of additional projects completed each year here doesn’t include projects completed by the new in-house operational resources that we talked about earlier; those projects would be in addition to these. Cumulatively, we would expect to complete approximately 40-50 total Drainage Assistance projects per year in total moving forward.


So, what sort of rate adjustment are we recommending?


The rate change required to generate the additional $3 million on the capital side equates to 70 cents per SFEU, and the rate change required to generate the $1.3 million on the operational side comes to 30 cents per SFEU.


In total, we’re proposing a $1.00 per month per SFEU increase to the stormwater rate.


What does $1.00 increase mean for our customers?


The majority of our customers (84,000 out of about 127,000) pay the flat rate average residential rate of $4.00 per SFEU, so a $1.00 rate increase would be an additional $12 per year.


Our 17,000 or so commercial customers would see increases of varying levels, based on the number of SFEUs for which they’re billed.


  • – It’s important to remember that the commercial rate is still one SFEU per 2,260 of impervious area, based on actual impervious area present.
  • – In the examples here for small, medium, and large commercial properties, the effect is a monthly increase of $10, $44, and $327, respectively

These are representative monthly bills, not averages, to give you a general idea of the impacts.

The average commercial property is charged just under 14 SFEUs, or about $56/month, for stormwater.

Said another way, this proposed rate adjustment would raise the average commercial property’s stormwater fee by $14/month, or $168/year

In terms of the impact to our budget of both the funding increase and the fund balance allocation, we would see an increase of 77% to our Capital funding level, and a 45% increase to our direct cost allocation for the new crews in the Transportation Field Services Division. This would result in an overall increase to our FY17 budget of about $6.2 million, or about 35%.

In looking at where this would place us among other municipalities within the state of North Carolina, we’d be moving to the average ($5.00) of this data set, and be 50 cents above the median rate ($4.50).



Comparison of old and proposed rates vs. peers


At the national level, a rate of $5.00/SFEU would keep us below the average of $5.87, and place us directly at the median rate.



Comparison of old and proposed rates vs. peers

To summarize:

  • – A $1.00 adjustment to the stormwater rate would allow a significantly increased level of service
    • – Including reduced response time to failures
    • – And much more aggressive capital investment, including an expanded Drainage Assistance Program
    • – All while keeping Raleigh very competitive in terms of our stormwater fee
  • – We’ll also be utilizing our accrued fund balance in a targeted way in order to accelerate several large and critical projects

So I have two recommended actions for you in wrapping up this presentation. The first is that I would be very happy to answer any questions or feedback that you might have related to the information that I just shared.

And the second is, as we talked about earlier, to refer the Drainage Assistance Policy revisions that will be coming out of the SMAC early next month to the Growth & Natural Resources Committee.

Discussion took place regarding how average square footage was calculated with Mayor McFarlane questioning what happened with Seattle’s monthly rates and Stormwater Manager Hinkle responding Seattle has a very aggressive stormwater management program.

Ms. Baldwin questioned the project backlog was work the City performed internally with Stormwater Manager Hinkle responding staff utilizes outside consultants and the projects are bid out.

Discussion took place regarding ways improve processing CIP projects process with Mr. Thompson questioning whether most of the project designs are performed by outside consultants and Stormwater Manager Hinkle responding in the affirmative; however, smaller projects are designed in-house.

Discussion took place regarding the project backlog with Mr. Hinkle indicating it would take approximately 2 years to complete the projects on the backlog list. Mr. Thompson questioned how staff defined the “holistic” approach with Stormwater Manger Hinkle responding staff looks at the broader scope for projects in response to stormwater petitions.

Mrs. Crowder questioned with additional crew whether more projects would be completed in-house with Stormwater Manager Hinkle responding in the affirmative.

Mrs. Crowder talked about flood mitigation and questioned whether there was a process in place to show how funds are spent with Stormwater Manager Hinkle responding funds are provided through a matching grant from FEMA. Mrs. Crowder questioned whether the funds are provided based on need with Mr. Hinkle responding in the affirmative adding the funds are provided based on FEMA’s determination and indicated the Milner Inn project was a good example.

Discussion took place regarding whether the City could reduce the stormwater fees once it is caught up on the project backlog as well as whether the City would consider the Neuse River a possible water intake source. The discussion also included the number of backlogged projects slated that were not yet approved by Council as well as how future stormwater requests would be handled with Mayor McFarlane indicating there may be requests in the system that may not yet appear on the list.

Mr. Cox question whether Lake Lynn was included in the project list noting portions of the lake were being filled in with sediment with Stormwater Manager Hinkle indicating Lake Lynn is owned by the County.

Mr. Cox questioned how the SFEU rate is listed with Mr. Thompson indicating the rate is listed on the water bill and pointed out he brought a copy of his recent bill to the meeting to show the rate is indeed listed with Stormwater Manager Hinkle indicating Mr. Thompson was correct.

Discussion took place regarding how residential tier rates are determined and calculated with Mrs. Crowder requesting a printout of the tiers and Stormwater Manager Hinkle indicating staff will provide that information.

Mr. Thompson questioned how stormwater rates are calculated for homeowner associations with Stormwater Manager Hinkle responding staff looks at the total impervious surface area and the homeowners association has the option of dividing the total rate by the number of units in the complex.

Mr. Stephenson talked about the percentage of funds used in stormwater runoff prevention and as well as the City’s progress in light of new development.

Following further discussion, Mayor McFarlane indicated that, without objection, the Council will refer the Drainage Assistance Policy revisions to the Growth and Natural Recourses Committee

Ms. Baldwin questioned the last time the stormwater rates were increased with Stormwater Manager Hinkle responding there has been no increase since the fees were enacted 12 years ago. Ms. Baldwin expressed her belief it was about time the City stepped it up regarding the fees with Mr. Thompson expressing his hope the City would not be hit with another major hurricane or else the stormwater funds would deplete quickly.

Mayor McFarlane talked about the timeliness with regard to the proposed rate increase.

Mr. Stephenson talked about the continued need to maintain water quality in the City’s streams