Stormwater Management Frequently Asked Questions

General Info

Q: What is stormwater?

A: Stormwater is rain or snow that falls on streets, parking areas, rooftops and other developed land and either flows directly into nearby streams or travels there through drainage systems, such as curbs and gutters, inlets, storm sewers, detention ponds and channels. The flows are then discharged, untreated, into Georgetown County's streams and creeks.

Q: Who benefits from a stormwater management program?

A: Everyone benefits. Residents, business and industry owners, students, visitors, and developers all benefit. It protects roadways, property, and receiving streams and other waters. It addresses both flooding and water quality concerns.

Q: What is the Storm Water Ordinance?

A: Click on the link below to view the Storm Water Ordinance.

Q: What is the purpose of the Storm Water Design Manual?

A: It is a guidance and performance tool of the SW Program. It contains rules and minimum requirements for the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of all new drainage facilities within Georgetown County.

Q: What information do I have to submit to obtain a Stormwater Plan review?

A: To request a Stormwater Plan review you need to submit a completed/signed Stormwater Application and a completed/signed Stormwater Submittal Checklist.

Q: What is a stormwater utility?

A: A stormwater utility is County-created separate entity and fund that has been established to fund operations and maintenance functions on existing stormwater infrastructure, administration of the County's federally-mandated municipal permit, engineering and technical review staff, and the design and construction of capital improvements.

Q: Why do we have a stormwater utility fee?

A: Georgetown County faces a number of stormwater problems: steadily increasing flooding and water pollution problems as the County grows; unfunded state and federal mandates to control these problems and meet standards; aging, deteriorating, and undersized system to handle stormwater; and competition for dollars with other County needs. The County studied these problems and how they might be solved, and after looking at all the options for solving these problems, found that this was the best path. A stormwater fee is the most equitable revenue source to solve the County's stormwater problems. The stormwater program will enable the County to comply with federal regulations as well as protect our community through improved drainage and protection of local waters. After studying the issue, the County Council passed an ordinance establishing the stormwater enterprise fund after three readings, on June 12th, 2007.

Q: What other sources of revenue fund stormwater management?

A: The County charges permitting fees for stormwater, which pay a portion of the cost for reviewing new development. In the future, additional state and federal program monies, such as grants, may be obtained for certain types of projects.

Q: Why is a Stormwater Utility the best solution to fund stormwater drainage needs?

A: A stormwater utility is the fairest way to operate and maintain the County's stormwater system, meet the requirements of the federal water quality permit and add capital improvements to mitigate existing flooding, erosion and sedimentation problems. Those that generate stormwater runoff from their properties will pay to fund the stormwater system.

Q: Why can't the General Fund pay for the needs?

A: The General Fund has historically been used to fund stormwater operations. However, this source of revenue is used to fund many other County programs. In the past, higher priority has been given to the other General Fund programs. Therefore, needed improvements and maintenance for the stormwater system have been delayed due to a lack of available funds. The General Fund is limited in the amount of revenue it receives each year. Boosting the stormwater funding only through the General Fund would result in cuts to other programs, such as public safety and parks. General Fund revenues that were used for stormwater will now be made available for other programs.

Q: How is a fee different from a tax?

A: A service fee is a charge imposed on property for the purpose of defraying the cost of a particular government service, such as countywide stormwater drainage. The service fee funds can only be spent in providing that service. A tax is imposed on property, acts, events, or occurrences to provide revenue to pay any of the general expenses of government. The tax revenue can be used to pay for other government activities, such as fire, zoning, streets, and libraries.

Stormwater fees are like those of other utilities such as water and sanitary sewer, which are based on the demand a user places upon the utility system. In the case of the stormwater user fee, each property's stormwater runoff places demand on the County's system of pipes, channels, and flood and pollution control structures that make up the stormwater system. The stormwater system costs money to operate and maintain and it must function properly to carry stormwater safely, decrease pollution, and prevent flooding.

Q: What is impervious surface?

A: Impervious surfaces are hard surfaces that do not allow rain or snow to infiltrate at the same rate as natural surface, like grass or dirt. It includes surfaces such as rooftops, driveways, patio areas, sidewalks, parking lots and other man-made structures.

Q: Are gravel surfaces considered impervious surface?

A: In general, compacted gravel areas engineered and maintained for vehicle travel may be considered impervious.

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New Development

Q: Why don't the developers pay for this? Isn't growth causing the problem?

A: All properties in the County contribute stormwater to the system, so all should contribute to the cost of operating the system. A significant portion of the utility's revenues will be used for maintenance, planning and water quality improvements to the existing system, including the one in your neighborhood. As the facilities in your part of the county age, they require a higher level of maintenance and eventual replacement. The remaining revenue will be used for capital improvement projects that will reduce flooding threats to life and property that currently exist. While the stormwater system in your area may be adequate to protect your neighborhood, the storm flows may contribute to problems downstream.

Q: What is the responsibility of New Development?

A: All New Development will be required to follow existing County ordinances. These regulations require the developers to build storm sewer systems and stormwater detention facilities to manage the runoff generated by their developments. Once a lot is developed, that lot will be subject to the same stormwater fee as all the existing lots.

Rates/Fees

Q: Who pays the fee?

A: Every property in the Georgetown County with 400 square feet of impervious area or more will pay a stormwater user fee. Single family residential, multi-family residential and non-residential properties will pay the fee, including the County itself. While all developed properties will be charged a fee, it may be reduced for services provided such as maintenance, reduction of developed flow discharges, etc. on non-residential properties. This reduction is called a credit.

Q: I represent a tax-exempt organization. Do we have to pay the stormwater fees?

A: Yes, all developed property in the County is subject to the stormwater fee. It is based on the demand a property places on the stormwater management system.

Q: When will the first stormwater user fee be billed?

A: The stormwater fee will be billed, along with property taxes on the tax bills mailed in October 2007. The fee will be due, along with property taxes, on or before the due date printed on the bill.

Q: How often will I receive a stormwater utility bill?

A: The stormwater user fee is billed once a year. Property owners will see the new fee on their tax bills. Property owners who do not pay property taxes, and might not have received a bill from the Georgetown County tax office before, will now receive a bill with a line item for the stormwater user fee.

Q: What is an ERU?

A: The Equivalent Runoff Unit, or ERU, is the base unit for the stormwater user fee, similar to the base unit for other utilities. An ERU is a measure of the amount of impervious surface on a property. One ERU is equal to 3,770 square feet of impervious area. This is the average amount of impervious surface found at the average single family residence in Georgetown County. The charge for one ERU will be $52.00 per year.

Q: What will owners of single family residential properties pay?

A: Residential properties will pay $52.00 per year, for one ERU.

Q: What will owners of non-single family residential properties pay?

A: All NSFR properties will be charged on the basis of measured impervious area rounded up to the next whole ERU. Thus the number of ERUs on any NSFR property is equal to the total impervious area divided by 3,770sqft and rounded up to the next whole number.

Q: Who will pay the fees for public buildings?

A: Owners of property with a fee, including Georgetown County and other owners of public buildings in the unincorporated county are required to pay the stormwater user fees.

Q: Why is impervious area being used to determine the fee?

A: The amount of stormwater runoff originating from individual properties is significantly increased by the amount of impervious area on each property. Impervious area consists of houses, buildings, and other structures; driveways, patios, parking lots, and other manmade surfaces that do not allow precipitation to infiltrate into the ground. Pervious surfaces include grass, pasture, crop land, and most undeveloped land. Impervious surfaces decrease the amount of infiltration into the ground and increase the amount of runoff that will enter the County's stormwater system.

Over the long term, the amount of impervious area on a property is related to the amount of stormwater that flows off the property and into the nearby streams and creeks. Impervious surfaces also increase the amount of pollution that is carried by stormwater runoff that is carried into the County's drainage system and surface waters.

Q: Why not just bill a flat fee instead of incurring the administrative costs to determine everyone's impervious surface?

A: Billing based on the amount of impervious surface on a property is the most equitable method to determine the fee. Impervious surfaces decrease the amount of infiltration into the ground and increase the amount of runoff that will enter the County's stormwater system. Over the long term, the amount of impervious area on a property is related to the amount of stormwater that flows off the property and into the nearby streams and creeks.

Q: Why can't this be phased in over a period of years?

A: The program could be phased in, but would result in further delay of needed capital projects and maintenance activities and would increase the costs in the long term. Delaying funding could also jeopardize compliance with the federal stormwater permit and possibly result in fines for non-compliance.

Q: Will the fee change in the future?

A: County Council can adjust the rate by passing a change to the stormwater utility ordinance. Based on program cost estimates and rate base increases, the rate is not expected to change in the first five years of the utility.

Q: Will the impervious area calculation be exact?

A: The County used aerial photographs to measure impervious surface, and the calculation is accurate in almost all cases, but the technology that currently exists cannot guarantee 100% accuracy. In most cases of error, the calculated amount will err on the side of the customer.

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Credits

Q: Can I reduce the amount of my fee by controlling the runoff from my property?

A: Unlike other utility fees, users can not decrease their fees by flipping a switch or turning off a faucet. However, users can ensure that their properties are developed in a way that lessens the demand placed on the stormwater system. Through a system of credits offered by the utility, non-single family residential properties can have their fees reduced for certain ongoing activities that:
* Reduce the use of the public stormwater system; or
* Reduce the County´s cost of service.

The crediting program will be finalized in October. When it is complete, credits will be retroactive to July 1, 2007.

Q: What can I do to get a credit?

A: For more information on the crediting program, contact the County Stormwater Engineer.

Q: Are you going to offer credits for residential properties?

A: The credits are only available to non-single family residential properties.

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Revenue/Projects

Q: How much money will the Stormwater Utility raise?

A: The Stormwater Utility fees will generate approximately $1.5 million in revenue per year. The fees will fund ongoing operations and maintenance, capital improvements needs, and meeting requirements for the federally-mandated Municipal Stormwater Discharge Permit. The new stormwater program was developed through consultations with County staff members. Staff examined the County's current program and stormwater program needs and issues and then recommended a program that would meet the County's needs over time.

Q: How will the money be spent?

A: The enhanced stormwater program funded by the stormwater utility fees will enable the County to meet the requirements of its federally-mandated stormwater permit as well as fund drainage improvement projects, enhanced enforcement and compliance for New Development, drainage studies, and public education and outreach. Stormwater fees can only be spent and will only be spent on stormwater-related activities.

Q: Will there be public input on the capital projects?

A: As with all major capital projects in the County, there will be a public process for each stormwater capital improvement project.

Q: Who manages the money?

A: The Stormwater Utility is a County-owned business, under Public Services. The Stormwater Engineer and Public Services Director will oversee all operations of the utility.

Q: Will there be a checks and balances system to monitor the spending?

A: County Council will approve the Stormwater Utility budget each year in a public meeting.

Q: Will we ever catch up with the backlog of drainage projects and improvements needed in the County?

A: The Stormwater Utility will allow the County to make progress on the County's capital improvement needs. Having the additional maintenance funding made available by the Stormwater Utility will prevent the backlog from growing at the rate it previously did as preventative maintenance will prolong the life of some infrastructure.

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Billing

Q: How and when will I receive my first bill?

A: The first stormwater fee will be charged to properties as a line-item on the October 2007 property tax bill and each year thereafter.

Q: I think my bill may be calculated incorrectly, what should I do?

A: If a customer believes that the stormwater user fee has been billed incorrectly, the customer must file a written appeal with the director of the Georgetown County Public Services Department within thirty days of the decision or receipt of written determination from which the appeal is taken. The appeal shall include an accurate map or drawing containing information on the total property area, the impervious surface area, and any other features or conditions which may be of importance in determination of the validity of the appeal.

Q: When will my first bill be due?

A: Your stormwater user fee will be due on the same day as your property taxes are due. If you receive a stormwater-only bill, the fee will be due on the date printed on your bill.

Q: How will billing be handled for stores that are leasing space in a building owned by someone else?

A: Bills will be sent to the existing property owner. If bills are sent to property owners, it is up to the property owner to determine how the cost will be distributed among the tenants.

Q: Will other governmental properties and Georgetown County properties in the unincorporated areas be charged the fee?

A: Yes, they are being charged the fee for their impervious area.

Q: What if I refuse to pay?

A: Property liens will be pursued for non-payment.

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Georgetown County Stormwater Management
Old County Courthouse, Room 274, 129 Screven Street, Georgetown, SC 29440
Phone: (843) 545-3524 • Fax: (843) 545-3005 •