Marion County homeowners shocked by spike in storm water fees

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Many Marion County homeowners likely received an unwelcome surprise in the mail this week - the fall property tax bill with a higher storm water fee added to it.

Marion County Deputy Treasurer Cindy Land said her office has been "swamped between people coming in, as well as phone calls. It's been overwhelming, because the volume is more than we can handle at this time."

And some of the callers aren't very nice. One caller said to "please tell (the treasurer) to quit raising taxes, because you're turning us into a Communist world."

But the treasurer isn't to blame. It was the mayor and City-County Council that signed off on a new rate structure last fall to pay for much-needed and long overdue upgrades to the city's aging storm water system.

Homeowner Henry Bayt said he doesn't care who was behind it, he doesn't like it.

"My reaction was, 'Where's it going to end?'" Bayt said.

Instead of paying a flat rate of $27 a year, rates are now based on the amount of impervious surface a homeowner has. That's anything off of which the rain has to run. It includes your home, garage, driveway and patio. With the change, the average homeowner's bill has more than doubled, with some paying far more than that.

"Maybe it's for a good cause, but why are property owners absorbing it all time?" Bayt said.

Mark Gant, who lives in a ranch on the west side, said, "my wife told me it was big increase compared to what it was."

But he is not complaining, not after the city fixed the drainage problems in his neighborhood.

"Before they added culverts and ditches, when it rained, we had water in street halfway up my calf," he said.

Those who are unhappy with their new rate can appeal by calling the calling Public Works at 327-2015 and leaving their contact information.

DPW spokesman Scott Manning said homeowners will be called within 48 hours. The agency will then send someone to the home to double check the numbers. 

Rates are scheduled to go up every year through 2019 to pay for a backlog of $320 million in infrastructure improvements.

Bayt said he feared those fees and others would "squeeze out the middle class and those at the bottom...that's my big concern, am I going to be able to stay in house I'm ready to retire?"

A couple of councilors have introduced proposals to change or even repeal the new rates, but Manning said the city would still be left having to find funding for the upgrades.

Storm water bills are due November 10. Land said even if homeowners plan to appeal, they still need to pay up or face penalties.

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Talk about sticker shock. More than a quarter-million homeowners in Marion County have seen a huge jump in storm water fees. According to the Marion County Treasurer's Office, the average hike is 113%. (Just under 37,000 homeowners saw rates drop, an average of 11%.)

That news has flooded the treasurer's office with more than 2,500 calls the last two days and hundreds of walk-ins.

It began after property owners got a second property tax bill this week. Storm water fees are tacked on to the spring bill, but since the new rates didn't take effect until July 1, a second bill was required.

The rate changes were approved by the City-County Council and mayor last fall to help pay for upgrades and improvements to the city's aging storm water system. 

Instead of paying a flat $2.25 a month, the new rate is based on the amount of impervious surface a homeowner has.

Last month, Department of Public Works Spokesman Brian Easley told us "impervious surface is anything rain has to run off of. That includes a home, garage, driveway, sidewalk, patio, deck and pool. The more impervious space a homeowner has, the more he or she will pay.

Anthony Hoffman was one of the homeowners who saw his bill spike to $12.10 a month or "six months higher." Seeing how much more he was paying, he half-jokingly said, "wow, I should tear out my driveway."

Officials in the treasurer's office said most of the calls were from people wondering why they were getting a second bill and why their rates had gone up.

"We did advise them last spring that this would be happening, but I don't know if they just did not anticipate that. Our phones are very busy right now," said Cindy Land, stressing, "the treasurer is merely the collector, the treasurer is not who established those rates."

Like property taxes, homeowners can appeal their new fees. The Department of Public Works is the city agency overseeing the process. If you have a question or would like to appeal your fee, call 327-2015 or email stormwater@indy.gov.

This is not a one-time increase, the new ordinance calls for rates to increase every year through 2019.

DPW Storm Water Program website