During Tuesday’s regular meeting the Amarillo City Council voted to take the first step toward changing an ordinance shifting the drainage bill payment responsibility from residential and commercial tenants to the property owner. Council members conducted a public hearing and first reading of Ordinance 7738, which would require a second reading at the next council meeting to become official.

The change passed by a 4-1 vote, with Council Member Elaine Hays casting the lone dissenting vote. At issue, Hays said, is the matter of some property owners being unaware of the ordinance change and having questions about the legality of potentially increasing rental fees in response to having to absorb the drainage bill responsibility.

“My concern is some of our larger property owners are just still not aware,” she said with regard to notification of the proposed ordinance change. “If I were a property owner, to just think there is still a large group out there who don’t know about it, concerns me. Regarding the legality of whether or not they can recoup those expenses in the middle of a lease, I feel like we are getting ahead of that information. From a property owner’s side I would be saying give me a chance to find out what my options are legally. Getting that legal question answered for a property owner is a loose thread.”

Drainage Utility Department officials said they conducted three public outreach meetings as a means of public engagement, with the trio of sessions being offered at city library venues in November.

Officials said a drainage utility is a user-fee based funding mechanism for municipal drainage management services, proportional to service demand similar to municipal water, wastewater and solid waste services. According to the City’s website, the two major advantages over continued reliance on funds from the general fund for drainage services are the establishment of a dedicated, long-term funding stream specifically for drainage management and customer fee equity.

Billing for a typical residence is $2.51 per Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU), per the City’s website, with small residential fees being $1.71 and large residential $3.79. The commercial fee is listed as $39.15 / acre impervious area (43,560 square feet).

“Last November we sent out over 7,000 mailings,” Drainage Utility Supervisor Damen Ratliff said. “The City paid for those mailings to go out to individual property owners. Each one of those property owners had the opportunity to respond. The first meeting we had, there were 10 people, the second meeting there were 50 people and the next meeting was standing room only. The word got out around pretty quickly in the community. There is mutual benefit to moving in this direction and I believe that.”

The monthly drainage bill fee is based on the amount of impervious surface area on each developed land parcel in the City, officials noted, adding impervious surfaces such as rooftops, driveways and parking areas impede natural infiltration and increase the rate and volume of storm water runoff that must be collected and carried by the City’s drainage system. The impervious area for each developed property parcel was estimated from Potter-Randall Appraisal District records on building features and parking areas and aerial photographs of the City