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THUNDER RUMBLING OVER DRAIN PLAN

Although the city's proposed storm-drain utility fee hasn't drawn much public attention, rain clouds are gathering on the horizon.

The City Council is contemplating a $2.75-a-month residential fee to build and maintain a city storm-drainage system. Businesses, churches, government buildings and schools, including Brigham Young University, would pay $2.75 per month per 3,200 to 3,400 square feet of impervious property such as roofs and parking lots.Environmental Protection Agency regulations on the testing and treating of storm-water runoff, due out in two years, prompted the city to initiate the proposal at this time, said Raylene Ireland, administrative assistant to Mayor Joe Jenkins.

A public hearing on the plan is scheduled Tuesday, June 11, at 7 p.m. in the council chambers. Another hearing will follow July 9. A meeting for commercial business owners was held Thursday and another is set for 2 p.m. Friday, June 7, in the council chambers.

Organizations concerned about the proposed fee are starting to make some thunder.

"This is not a small fee that can be ignored," said Howard Stephenson, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association. "This could be devastating to many taxpayers."

"This is not a property tax. It's a utility fee," Ireland said. The $1.2 million to $1.4 million raised by the city would be dedicated to "storm drain and storm drain alone," she said. It will not be used for such things as road maintenance or balancing the budget.

Jenkins said the Provo proposal differs from Salt Lake City's "gutter tax." Revenues raised in Salt Lake City will go to the general fund and could be used for things other than storm-drainage systems. "It's a guise for a tax," he said.

Provo will create a storm-drain department staffed by seven employees, five of whom will transfer from another city department.

Brigham Young University would be one of the largest contributors to the fund should the fee be imposed.

The university has yet to take an official position on the issue. But, "we wouldn't be pleased if we were slapped with a whole bunch of new costs," said Brent Harker, BYU spokesman.

Harker said BYU is a special case because it provides many of its own services such as police protection, road maintenance and infrastructure. "It would have to be considered in a different category than any other business," he said.

The city will grant credits to organizations that already divert rainwater to landscaped areas or sumps.

"At first glance it may seem reasonable to require the churches, schools and charities to pay this tax, but who are they?" Stephenson said. "They are us. Citizens support these organizations and therefore will ultimately pay the tax."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposed the rain-gutter fee in Salt Lake City, calling it a tax that should exempt religious and charitable properties.