CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – If you live in Clay County, you could have to pay in the future to help the county handle flooding.
The County Board of Commissioners is considering instituting a stormwater fee for property owners.
Currently, Clay County does not have one. In fact, the town of Orange Park just adopted a fee of its own. About $250,000 in funds from the town's new stormwater fee and $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are funding the dredging of a creek that flooded parts of Orange Park during Hurricane Irma.
In September 2017, floodwaters during Irma pounded Charles Cauthen's Orange Park neighborhood.
"They’re doing what they can to alleviate the problem. When the next hurricane comes, we’ll find out, I guess," Cauthen said in reference to the work crew digging out nearby Dudley Branch Creek, which contributed to a lot of that flooding.
Mike Kelter, an engineer on the dredging project, said Irma was a wake-up call for county and town leaders.
"They got 13.65 inches of rain in a 24-hour period of time," he said. "It's a big issue ... We had 23 homes up and down Dudley Branch, plus the public works department, all flooded out during the storm, plus the substation that feeds all the electricity to the town."
The town passed the new stormwater fee in October and it went into effect in December. That's when Orange Park residents started seeing it on their monthly utility bill. Water and sewer rates in Orange Park have been lowered to ease the impact of the fee. The stormwater fee averages around $7 a month for homeowners and is expected to generate about $400,000 a year.
"We've never had a revenue stream for our stormwater," said Clay County Commissioner Diane Hutchings. "It's just been competing with our pavement program and general revenue."
Hutchings said the rest of Clay County may have to follow suit.
"We’ve been kind of late coming to it and it’s to the point now where we realize we need to get aggressive on our paving program," Hutchings said. "And to do that, we have to have a funding source for stormwater management."
Hutchings said they take the stormwater money out of the roads budget each year and as a result, flood problems never get fully fixed and roads suffer because they share funding from the same pot. So leaders like Hutchings will have to make a pitch to Clay County property owners and ask if they’re willing to pay a new fee.
It’s unknown at this point how much a new stormwater fee would be, as nothing has been passed.
If it is approved in the future, the stormwater fee would show up on property tax bills.
The next step is a county commission workshop at 4 p.m. March 25. The public is welcome. Then, there will likely be a letter mailed in the late summer to property owners detailing what the county plans to do.