Gonna Have to Side With the Sewer District on This
The Metropolitan Sewer District, which provides stormwater and sewer services to Saint Louis city and County, has changed its billing practices. The Post-Dispatch has the story on it here. MSD’s own explanation is here. I like the change a lot, and not just because my bill is basically staying the same. I like it because it is good policy, whenever possible, to direct fees or taxes to the people who use or, in this case, cause the system, event, or service being provided. Now, obviously, you can’t do this for all things government provides. People who live in dangerous neighborhoods should not pay more for police protection than others. But for many policy areas, such as tolls on highways, it is good policy to make the user pay.
MSD’s new billing plan is for stormwater, not wastewater services. They are now taking into consideration how much of your property is able to absorb rainwater without sending it into the sewer system. So if you have a lot of land that is paved over, you are sending more water to the system than someone whose land is all grass and trees so it seems very fair to me that you should pay more. To be sure, it’s the same rate, just a higher fee based on less permeable land.
The main dispute involves people who use a septic system for wastewater, who in the past did not pay anything for stormwater service either, even though they used the stormwater system. Actually, they would have received a charge for stormwater service, but because the charge was less than postage, MSD never actually billed anyone. The spokesperson for MSD could teach other PR people a thing or three about succinctness and clarity. From the article:
Lance LeComb, a spokesman for the district, said everyone should be billed because nearly all storm water eventually reaches the district’s storm water system, which includes creeks.
"Everyone benefits from it," LeComb said. "They have to pay for it."
As we often say around here, good tax policy involves basing taxes or fees widely, and then keeping them as low as possible along with making the actual users of services pay fees directly, when that is possible. This new billing system does all of this. People on septic no longer get a free ride for stormwater service, and people who send more stormwater into the system pay more for the system. It all sounds perfectly reasonable to me.