Hannibal looks at how to pay for stormwater sewer system upgrades

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A light agenda with one heavy issue was addressed by the Hannibal City Council Tuesday night.

The big issue was a report from City Attorney James Lemon on stormwater funding options. Lemon recently met with the CIty Manager, City Engineer and Director of Central Services to discuss the various options for funding a stormwater sewer program.

The city currently has a stormwater utility that is managed by the Hannibal Board of Public Works, but voters rejected a sales tax that would have funded that utility. Lemon reminded council members that although HBPW may have money in its reserves that money cannot be used for utilities for which it was not collected. He said the Board cannot use “electric fees to fix sewer or water fees to fix electric, etc.” 

Hannibal’s stormwater sewer system is over 100 years old in some places and until the 1980’s contractors often connected storm sewers into the city’s sanitary sewer system which causes backups during heavy rainstorms. Parts of the century old system have also collapsed over the last several years, costing the city tens of thousands of dollars to repair. 

Lemon said state and federal mandates are making it even more important for the city to create funding for a stormwater system. He said the Missouri DNR or the USEPA could mandate upgrades and changes that have to be made and if the changes are not made, “the City runs the risk of fines and, in worst case scenarios, lawsuits by the EPA or DNR where they ask a court to force the City to make changes to the stormwater system.”

Lemon said the court would be unlikely to take into consideration whether the city had the necessary funds, “or if it would interfere with the ability to provide streets, sidewalks, etc.”

Referring to the failed vote that would have funded the stormwater utility, Mayor James Hark suggested the council put a five-year sunset on any tax increase. He said that would give taxpayers a chance to see how successful the program is and will make renewing the tax easier. Hark also warned that if the state acts, the city would be forced to make drastic cuts in staff and services including cuts to fire and police personnel.

Another option mentioned by Lemon would include the city taking control of the utility back from the HBPW. THat would put it in the city’s general fund, but the city would still need to find a way to pay for it.

No official action was taken, but the council asked Lemon to look more deeply into the various funding options.

Council did approve a resolution that will allow city staff to pick up limbs and debris after storms once an emergency is declared. City Manager Lisa Peck said the resolution was needed to clear up confusion and permit the city to take public action.

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