1. Transition the Office of Resilience & Sustainability (ORS) to a permanent Department of Resilience & Sustainability.
As a first step to creating a new stormwater utility to be charged with overseeing implementation of the UWP framework and vision, we strongly recommend transitioning ORS to a permanent city department. This transition will require the New Orleans City Council to create an ordinance and a ballot measure for public vote to amend the Home Rule Charter. ORS has been integral to implementing and overseeing successful stormwater projects across the city, is responsible for working across departments and agencies to implement comprehensive resiliency initiatives, and does not currently have a permanent source of funding.
2. Reorganize the roles and responsibilities of DPW, SWBNO, and the New Orleans Department of Parks & Parkways (P&P), among other agencies, to streamline leadership and management of our stormwater assets.
Stormwater assets and green stormwater infrastructure initiatives are currently managed by nearly a dozen separate agencies and departments, with no centralized office or department to oversee green stormwater infrastructure projects citywide. Reorganization is essential. This includes consolidation of all gray stormwater infrastructure under SWBNO, such as pipes, canals, catch basins, and pump stations, and all other gray assets managed by DPW. All current and future green stormwater infrastructure, such as bioswales, rain gardens, urban parklands, wetlands, and waterways that can be integrated to slow, store, and clean stormwater runoff will be managed and overseen by the new stormwater utility. Continuing our current stormwater governance structure leads to debilitating failures that threaten the viability of our city. Community members have lost faith and trust in the entities that currently manage stormwater assets. Reorganization of leadership and management is crucial to gain community support.
2.1 Create the Division of Stormwater Management under the Department of Resilience & Sustainability to govern stormwater management, projects, and funding.
Organized under the new Department of Resilience & Sustainability, the Division of Stormwater Management will be chartered as the stormwater utility for New Orleans. The Division of Stormwater Management will be responsible for the planning, accounting, and administration of funds from the stormwater fee. This includes collecting stormwater fees, authorizing and allocating funding for stormwater-related projects and programs, overseeing project management, and developing and sharing a written annual report with the New Orleans City Council, the New Orleans Mayor’s Office, and residents. The IAB is a successful model of fiscal governance to oversee projects and funding related to drainage, and should be used as a blueprint for the new stormwater utility governance structure outlined in this report.
2.2 Create the Green Infrastructure and Maintenance Office within Parks and Parkways (P&P).
Organized under P&P, the new Green Infrastructure and Maintenance Office must have a dedicated staff for all public green infrastructure projects in the City of New Orleans. Funds for this new office will come from the stormwater fee revenue. This office will support existing and upcoming projects and ensure all projects are properly maintained for effectiveness and beautification. This office will work with the Division of Stormwater Management to develop a new maintenance training program and implementation plan and provide annual reports on the state of green infrastructure within New Orleans. These reports will help inform best practices for future projects and support supplier diversity programs.
3. Establish a stormwater fee to fund implementation of both gray and green infrastructure by the Division of Stormwater Management.
It is essential to establish a dedicated, equitable, and sustainable fee and rate structure to fund stormwater operations, maintenance, and programs, outlined further in this report. A stormwater fee, rather than a tax, is the key to ensuring that all property holders pay into the system, providing a much needed boost in income for stormwater management and innovation. Estimates suggest the City of New Orleans loses tens of millions of dollars in annual drainage funding due to tax exemptions but needs at least $54.5 million annually to adequately manage drainage. Revenue from the stormwater fee will also be used for administration of stormwater-related management under the Department of Resilience & Sustainability. In addition, revenue from the stormwater fee can fund city-wide educational campaigns and innovate stormwater design competitions. In accordance with Louisiana Act 319, the New Orleans City Council must create a ballot measure put to a public vote to implement a stormwater fee. We recommend the ballot measure to transition the Office of Resilience and Sustainability to a permanent department and the ballot measure to adopt a stormwater fee be placed on the same ballot so that only one public education campaign is required.
4. Require the Division of Stormwater Management to maintain an up-to-date and publicly transparent website that details how the fee is calculated, how much revenue the fee produces, and how that revenue is spent.
It is essential to establish a dedicated, equitable, and sustainable fee and rate structure to fund stormwater operations, maintenance, and programs, outlined further in this report. A stormwater fee, rather than a tax, is the key to ensuring that all property holders pay into the system, providing a much needed boost in income for stormwater management and innovation. Estimates suggest the City of New Orleans loses tens of millions of dollars in annual drainage funding due to tax exemptions. Revenue from the stormwater fee will also be used for administration of stormwater-related management under the Department of Resilience & Sustainability. In addition, revenue from the stormwater fee can fund city-wide educational campaigns and innovate stormwater design competitions. In accordance with Louisiana Act 319, the New Orleans City Council must create a ballot measure put to a public vote to implement a stormwater fee. We recommend the ballot measure to transition the Office of Resilience and Sustainability to a permanent department and the ballot measure to adopt a stormwater fee be placed on the same ballot so that only one public education campaign is required.
5. Require the Division of Stormwater Management to establish a Community Advisory Committee to ensure public oversight.
To further public trust and transparency, the Division of Stormwater Management must create a Community Advisory Committee, composed of local community experts in the fields of engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, public health, workforce development, sustainability and resilience, finance, and other related sectors. The committee will be responsible for holding the Division of Stormwater Management accountable to its outlined goals and objectives and create an added layer of community-driven oversight and leadership. The governance structure of the Community Advisory Committee will be created after a ballot measure has been passed and can resemble best practices seen in Louisiana, as with the East and West Flood Protection Authority created post-Hurricane Katrina.
6. Develop a phased-in approach for stormwater fees, with commercial organizations, including nonprofits and tax-exempt businesses, paying first. Transition residents and taxable organizations into the fee as millages expire.
To significantly advance our stormwater management structure and vision, we need to raise significantly more income that is strictly dedicated to integrated water resources management. This new income must be a collective investment by all members of the city, and the increased burden should fall first to those who do not currently contribute to fund drainage through millages. Estimates suggest that nearly $123 million of potential city revenue is lost due to tax exemptions for approximately 13,500 properties. These tax-exempt property holders in New Orleans, who often burden the drainage system the most, do not pay toward drainage. The new stormwater fee must be designed to more equitably distribute the cost of stormwater management and unburden residents and taxable companies from paying more than their fair share. As the millages expire, residents and taxable organizations can be phased into the stormwater fee, if deemed necessary by the New Orleans City Council, to ensure adequate funding is maintained for stormwater initiatives.
7. Require a percentage of the stormwater fee revenue to be allocated to necessary and sufficient gray infrastructure operations and maintenance.
We recognize that the transition from millages to stormwater fees removes direct control of drainage funding from SWBNO. We also recognize that SWBNO needs additional revenue to support its role in stormwater management through gray infrastructure. We recommend that a requirement be placed upon expenditure of the stormwater fee that prioritizes a percentage of the stormwater fee revenue to be allocated to sustain gray infrastructure operations and maintenance, currently under SWBNO, and for any additional stormwater infrastructure it may acquire from DPW. In addition, it is vital to ensure that the organization responsible for implementing services has a steady and predictable source of revenue to fund its work.
8. When phased in, require all property owners to pay a stormwater fee based on the amount of impervious area on their parcel, with single family properties paying a simplified, three-tiered rate based on parcel size.
When phased in, require all property owners to pay a stormwater fee based on the amount of impervious area on their parcel, with single family properties paying a simplified, three-tiered rate based on parcel size.
8.1 Non-single family properties should be charged based on the impervious area on their parcel.
8.2 Utilize a common Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) based on median parcel size in the city.
8.3 Hire a consulting firm to create a parcel database explicitly designed for use in calculating and regularly updating the stormwater fee and assessing the appropriate ERU and rate structure that reflects the benefit provided to individual properties by the drainage system.
8.4 Assess total fees and rate structures annually to ensure equity and adequate funding for operations, maintenance, and programs.
The Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) is a standardized unit of measure implemented by many stormwater utilities to equate non-residential or multi-family residential properties to a specific number of single-family residences.
New Orleans has an opportunity to intentionally design a fee that recognizes the current inequities in who pays for drainage and create a system where all property owners have a shared investment in flood abatement and charting a more resilient future for our city. Requiring all property owners to pay a stormwater fee based on the amount of impervious surface on their parcel encourages property owners to take measures to decrease the amount of impervious surface area on their properties. In addition, a tiered fee structure for single-family properties removes the arduous burden of calculating a fee for every single family property based on varying impervious surface area while maintaining equitable rates for those properties. A tiered fee structure also makes the fee predictable for residential customers and easier to administer for the stormwater utility. This approach is illustrated by the Baltimore City Department of Public Works stormwater fee rate structure outlined later in this report.
SAMPLE SIMPLIFIED RESIDENTIAL ERU TIERS FOR NEW ORLEANS
Tier One: ¾ ERU for properties under 2,000 sq. ft.
Tier Two: 1 ERU for properties between 2,000 sq. ft. and 4,000 sq. ft.
Tier Three: 2 ERUs for properties over 4,000 sq. ft.
9. Create incentives to encourage residents and commercial property owners to increase permeability by expanding green infrastructure on their properties and participate in community greening initiatives.
Incentives, funded at least in part by revenues from the stormwater fee, to increase permeability on properties and participate in community greening initiatives throughout the city can reduce the impacts of flooding and burden on the drainage system. Residential, nonprofit organizations, tax-exempt for-profits, corporations, and government land holders should be eligible to benefit from incentives that reduce their stormwater fees. Activities that improvestormwater retention should be eligible for stormwater fee credits. Similarly, participation in registered and approved community greening initiatives, such as reforestation and green workforce development, should qualify residents and commercial property owners for reduced stormwater fees. Stormwater retention should be eligible for stormwater fee credits. Similarly, participation in registered and approved community greening initiatives, such as reforestation and green workforce development, should qualify residents and commercial property owners for reduced stormwater fees.
10. Create a dedicated fund for community improvement programs to ensure neighborhoods, businesses, and residents reap direct benefits from the new stormwater fee.
Funds set-aside yearly will go to a variety of programs to ensure all districts and neighborhoods see direct benefits to their community and that the fee positively impacts local economic, social, and public health sectors. Current and suggested city programs based on community input are listed below. Funding for each program will be determined by budget changes and annual progress reports.
Reforestation Tree Fund will support the current reforestation plan recognized by the New Orleans City Council on January 19th, 2023. This fund will ensure the city meets its equitable urban forestry goals by 2040.
The Pocket Park Program will help create mini-parks in neighborhoods that currently do not have any access to parks within a 10-minute walk. These micro-parks will be co-designed with community members and give respite to residents who currently do not have a pocket park. These parks will serve multiple purposes as they will help store, move and slow flooding, reduce vacant lots on properties that may be too small for residential or commercial use, and reduce public health challenges.
Blue/Green Workforce Program will build a new workforce of green infrastructure and construction workers dedicated to maintaining and expanding our gray and green infrastructure. Building on the current momentum inside the city’s Workforce Development Office and the New Orleans Advancing Cities Coalition, funds will go towards growing the city’s green jobs program and help ensure our youth have access to this new growing economy within and outside New Orleans. Additionally, incoming workers can be funneled into the New Green Infrastructure Maintenance Office and the newly expanded SWBNO.
Expansion of the Community Adaptation Program (CAP) will support green infrastructure installations in the Gentilly Resilience District and beyond. This grant program will equitably increase the reach of greening initiatives, allowing property owners who may not be capable of funding green stormwater projects on their own to receive credits and reduced fees. Funds set aside for a grant program could also be used for community garden programs at local schools or in neighborhoods, or for free rain barrel programs.
Investing funds in Parametric Insurance for the City of New Orleans that cover damages to city property and significantly reduce the cost for all residents. Additionally, utilize funds toward more investment in the FEMA Community Rating System program. Both programs will support reduced costs for flood and homeowners insurance, while protecting green and gray infrastructure investments made through the stormwater fee.
11. Provide hardship exemptions for property owners unfairly burdened by the stormwater fee.
Stormwater fees nationwide have incorporated tools to increase equity and affordability in who pays for drainage. Residential and commercial hardship exemptions must be provided so long as the property holder can provide evidence annually that the exemption is needed, whether through annual income tax receipts or otherwise. However, this exemption should sunset for commercial properties within three to five years to ensure adequate funding to achieve the goals of the fee. Allowing a three to five year hardship exemption for commercial properties allows those property owners time to incorporate their stormwater fee into their financial planning.
12. Require a minimum stormwater fee for residential and commercial properties to ensure adequate funding for operations, maintenance, and programs.
While credits and reduced rates for the stormwater fee are achievable, as outlined in Recommendation 10, the New Orleans City Council must be cautious of maintaining adequate funding for stormwater initiatives. The New Orleans City Council must require a minimum fee for all properties that ensures the sustainability of gray and green stormwater management in New Orleans. This minimum must also consider future inflation rates and long-term viability. In order to address the diverse financial needs of property owners, the New Orleans City Council should consider creating a low-income assistance program to help maintain affordability while implementing the minimum fee.
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