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City to correct billing snafu

Port Orchard’s Finance Department is taking steps to correct a storm drainage assessment billing snafu that cost the owners of six area properties more than $100,000 combined.

The owners of six area parcels received duplicate storm drainage assessment bills on a bi-monthly basis since 2009. The duplicate billings were due to an invalid parcel number in the Storm Drainage Assessment directory composed by the city.

The duplicate bills were sent and paid for by Heritage Arbor Terrace apartments, Harrison Hospital Phase I, Orchard Pointe Apartments, and two smaller residential homeowners. The overcharge, which ranged from more than $58,000 for Heritage Arbor Terrace Apartments to less than $1,000 for the smaller residents, will be refunded by the city.

Allan Martin, Port Orchard’s Treasurer, said it was the city that caught the duplicate billing problem after finding a single billing discrepancy in late 2010. The city’s public works staff and accounting staff performed a comprehensive review of the billing process to determine duplicates occurred in six of the city’s more than 3,800 storm drainage assessment accounts.

“We went back and set up a process to determine if this happened in other parcels,” Martin said.

Storm drainage utilities were first charged in 2009 in order for the city to comply with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and the county’s Stormwater Management Program, a program formed with the intention of mitigating pollution to the Puget Sound, said the city’s public works director Mark Dorsey. Storm drainage utility fees are $7 per 3,000 square-feet of impervious ground, such as a street, concrete or a building surface, on the property.

According to city ordinances, all single-family residential homes are charged for 3,000 square feet of impervious ground cover, or one Impervious Surface Unit (ISU).

Most commercial lots are charged at a set rate based on the presumption that 85 percent of a commercial lot consist of impervious surface.

Stormwater Drainage Assessment bills are included in water/sewer utility bills.

The money collected helps the city deal with illicit discharge from properties and other ways to help keep pollutant runoff out of Puget Sound, Dorsey said.

The comprehensive review by the city also included a Impervious Surface Unit area review, and four of the six properties that were billed twice had an ISU value that dropped from the standard rate of 85 percent of property, meaning they would pay less per month.

The public works storm drainage staff has instituted a monthly review and confirmation process that will audit ISU counts on individual properties, starting with the Bethel Corridor Annexation, to more accurately assess the amount of ISU units charged to each property.

Dorsey said because NPDES compliance was essentially an unfunded mandate, working through kinks of the new program has been trying for a staff that is already stretched thin.

“We’re doing everything we can to catch these mistakes,” Dorsey said.

 

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