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STORM CLOUDS GATHER OVER PROVO'S PLANS FOR DRAIN-SYSTEM FEE

An occluded front passed through the City Council public hearing on a proposed fee for a stormwater service district Tuesday night - some residents are hot on the idea, while school and church officials are cold to the plan.

The main point of contention was whether schools, churches and other tax-exempt entities should have to pay $2.75 per 3,200 square feet of impermeable surface area per month to build and maintain a storm-drain system. Residents of single-family houses and duplexes would be assessed a monthly flat rate of $2.75.City officials say the system must be built to meet Environmental Protection Agency regulations on the testing of polluted stormwater runoff and to prevent flooding. The city must begin monitoring runoff by November 1993.

Mayor Joe Jenkins said a user fee is the most equitable way to pay for the system. Provo City would pay $8,503 monthly.

Another public hearing is set for July 9. The city is looking to impose the fee in October.

Several citizens told the council they support the project as outlined by the city. Others asked the council to hold off until the EPA releases more details on the regulations.

Jenkins said residents on "absolute fixed incomes" would be exempt from the fee.

Provo School District "ought to be exempt" because it operates on tax dollars, Kay Laursen, superintendent, said Tuesday morning. The district would be assessed about $3,688 a month.

"It seems like a tax on our tax money," Laursen said. "We'd rather use our money for educational purposes."

Phil Lott, a school board representative, told the council Tuesday night the district would have to increase taxes to pay the fee.

Brigham Young University attorneys are studying the issue but have yet to take a position.

"If we come to the opinion it's a tax, we'll fight it. If it's a legitimate user fee, we'll pay it," Brent Harker, a BYU spokesman, told the Deseret News.

City Attorney Gary Gregerson said the assessment is a user fee. The $1.2 million the city stands to collect yearly would be used solely for the storm-drain system.

BYU would have to pay $11,330 a month, and "in order to cover the cost we'd have to raise tuition," Harker said.

Students or their parents who are Provo residents living in single-family houses or duplexes would in essence have to pay the fee twice, Harker said - once to satisfy the city's assessment and again as part of a tuition increase.

The Rev. Garrett Edmonds of St. Francis Catholic Church objected to churches having to pay the fee. He said it would "diminish the ability" to provide community service such as caring for the homeless. Edmonds said whether it's a fee or a tax is a matter of semantics.

Larry Childs, 400 S. 1450 East, Provo, suggested residents pay double to keep churches and schools from having to pay.

"I'm perfectly willing to do that in deference to the vital role schools and churches play," he said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposes a stormwater utility fee in Salt Lake City. Telephone calls for an opinion on the Provo issue were not returned by LDS Church attorneys last week or Monday and Tuesday.