ST. PETERSBURG — The city of St. Petersburg is set to acknowledge that lawns absorb water and driveways generally do not.
That's why the city is overhauling the way it charges homeowners to collect stormwater, taking into account how much of each property doesn't absorb rain.
If passed, it would align the city with that of other Tampa Bay area utilities, which already assess homeowners based on the impervious surface area of their lots.
If St. Petersburg’s City Council approves the change today, what was once a flat stormwater fee will transform into a tiered system. Homes will fall into one of four tiers based on the amount of impervious-surface square footage and pay the rate for that tier. City officials promise that will mean a reduction in stormwater fees for most homeowners. Fees are going up, though, by a lot, for those with the most pavement and other hard surfaces.
“The current system means that those folks with a small impervious area subsidize those properties with a large impervious area, which is unfair,” said former City Council member Karl Nurse, who first proposed the tiered regime in 2016. He said the proposed rate structure isn’t “perfect, but it’s much closer to fair than before.”
The stormwater rate change is just one of several increases that could come to St. Petersburg residents next year. The City Council also plans to vote on changes to the potable, waste and reclaimed water rates, and sanitation rates. The other changes are all relatively small increases.
By implementing tiers, city officials expect to collect about 9 percent more in stormwater revenue than last year. That will be used for capital projects and debt service.
Homeowners in the first tier, with impervious surface area on their lots less than 1,600 square feet will pay $4.99 per month in stormwater fees. The second tier, between 1,601 and 3,200 square feet, will pay $9.93 monthly. The third tier, between 3,201 and 4,800 square feet, will pay $15.59 per month. And the fourth tier, above 4,800 square feet, will pay $23.27 per month.
The current flat fee is $11 per month for all homeowners. Officials estimate about two-thirds of homeowners are in tiers one and two, meaning they will see a reduction to their stormwater bill.
Tying stormwater fees to impervious surface area is a common practice, said Danielle Hopkins, executive director of the Florida Stormwater Association. She said 69 percent of the municipalities surveyed by the association use impervious surface area as the basis for their fees.
She said connecting the impervious surface area to the fees is logical “because that’s the part of the water that doesn’t soak in, that’s the part of the water the city or local government has to handle,” she said. "So it would make sense that’s the part of the water they charge for: It directly relates to the workload, or the amount of water left.”
St. Petersburg counts roofing, walkways, driveways, patios, porches and pavers as impervious surfaces. Grass, dirt, sea shells, rock beds and gardens do not count against a homeowner, as water can drain through those surfaces.
The city hired Stantec, an engineering company, to analyze properties. It used parcel information from the Pinellas County Property Appraiser, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and Pinellas County to estimate how much impervious surface was on each of the more than 70,000 single-family lots citywide. City officials said the process should be at least 90 percent accurate.
About 500 homeowners have filed appeals with the city over their stormwater tiers, records show. At least 86 of those appeals have resulted in homes changing tiers.
Stantec said nobody was available to comment on its process for evaluating property. Hopkins said the company is a member consultant of the Stormwater Association and has been hired across the state.
Tampa also uses a tiered system to assess homeowners, said Transportation and Stormwater Services Department Director Jean Duncan. She said Hillsborough and Pinellas counties do the same.
Other St. Petersburg utility fees are going up: potable water by 3.25 percent, wastewater by 8 percent, reclaimed water by 6.1 percent and sanitation by 5.25 percent.