What and why
There is a good chance you will have one more homeowner fee to pay the City and County of Honolulu by November 2021—a storm water utility fee. The fee is supposed to act as an incentive for property owners to install more green space and rainwater catchments to reduce runoff to streams and the ocean. Impervious areas—areas covered by cement, asphalt, or a structure—prevent rainwater from entering the ground where it falls, acting instead to transport all kinds of yard waste, pollution, dog poop, and dirt into the waterways leading directly to the sea, untreated.
The new utility fee creates a dedicated fund for storm water management issues:
- community education,
- community organization,
- street cleaning,
- stream clearing,
- pipe maintenance,
- and more.
Homeowners will pay about 63¢ per square foot of impervious surface on their property. Exact rate categories to be determined. All properties will be assessed using satellite imaging: private, non-profit, commercial, and state and federal (think about airports and military bases).
Examples of monthly fees:
|Impervious surface area||Fee|
|<2,000 square feet||$5-7|
|2,000-3,000 square feet||$10-14|
|4,200 square feet||$22-28|
The City Department of Facility Maintenance (DFM) hired a firm to conduct a study and hold informational meetings to gather community feedback on the new utility fee. Honolulu City Council will hear the findings and make a final ruling about the storm water utility fee. Realistically, the community meetings gauge the temperature of the few who wander in when most people are at work or in traffic, and protect the City so that the public cannot say these new fees were sudden. We’ve been warned.
Currently, 10% of your property taxes and a portion of the budget for the Department of Facility Maintenance are used for storm water runoff activities, such as street cleaning and stream clearing. After storm water utility fees are in effect, more money will pay for more runoff activities and services. And neither the Department of Facility Maintenance budget nor your property taxes will decrease.
Homeowners and other property owners can contact City Council to urge a commensurate decrease in property taxes. Why pay twice?
Annual fees of $60-$336 for most single-family homes is not much more than our regular high housing costs. But we will also feel it in higher taxes, rent, and prices as businesses offset their costs and government entities adjust budgets to reflect their increased cost of operations.
Child caregivers and seniors with mobility issues would be most affected by property owners getting rid of or not installing paved areas. They need smooth concrete surfaces to use walkers, wheelchairs, and strollers.
While public roads will not be counted because they are for public use and benefit, Honolulu International Airport and the military bases on Oahu will. But don’t they also exist for public benefit? Some people do not fly, but everyone receives mail and flown-in food (seafood!).
Acres of cement will cost. I fear storm water fees would take funds away from soldiers for weapons, training, and equipment. No, thank you, to more expensive plane tickets. There is no magic money tree. Taxpayers pick up the bill.
What if the storm water utility assessment is wrong?
You can dispute the initial assessment before the bill is due.
How do I decrease my storm water utility fee?
- Install green infrastructures for rebates or refunds, whichever the Storm Water Utility decides.
- Install rain barrels
- Install a rain garden
- Replace cemented patios, driveways, and walkways with pervious hardscapes, groundcover, or grass
There are more community information meetings planned. Go and express your concerns in person. The 5 p.m. meeting times are inconvenient for most professionals, so if you cannot go, visit https://www.stormwaterutilityoahu.org/ for more information. Also, write to your local representative and council member to share your concerns or support. Unless you say something to the relevant influencers, your viewpoint will not be considered in the implementation of this fee or any other government ruling. Your voice matters.
Storm water utility fees are probably coming, but you can still add your 2¢. Go to a meeting. Contact your elected official. Remember: government exists to serve The People.