By Seth Richardson
A poverty of imagination, or deliberate dog-in-the-mangerism seems to be infecting city government, what with the failure of Issue 2a and 2b and the success of Issue 300.
The long-awaited demise of the Stormwater Enterprise has resulted in some blow-back regarding the Templeton Gap Floodway. The project to improve the levees to protect some 3000 properties was estimated to cost about $4.2 million, but with the dissolution of the Stormwater Enterprise, the improvements will likely not be made, according to Councilman Scott Hente, whose district includes the floodway. City spokesperson Mary Scott said, “It’s likely that project is not going to be done.”
If true, it’ll be because of ineptitude, incompetence and lack of imagination on the part of the city, not because the project has no other source of funding.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, as a part of its map modernization program, requires that all levees be certified, and analysis suggests that the T-Gap levee is too low to contain 100-year flood flows, so it must be raised in order to meet FEMA standards.
Nothing in federal law requires that the levee be improved, or that it exist at all. It was built in 1949, in response to several flooding incidents in the 1900s. The primary financial import of not certifying the levee is that homeowners in the area protected by the levee who have federally-backed mortgages (and nobody has said how many properties this includes) will be required to buy federal flood insurance. The City estimates that this might cost residents and business owners in the area as much as $3 million per year in insurance premiums.
This is a significant amount, but the question that’s been begged since the beginning of this project is why this is a city-wide problem and not a local issue? Why should all taxpayers in the city fund floodway improvements to benefit 3000 property owners merely so that they do not have to protect their own property by buying flood insurance?
Logically, this situation is ripe for a Templeton Gap Floodway Improvement District, which would extract taxes from those residents whose homes are threatened, rather than having everyone else pay for it.
Given the fact that the estimated cost of the improvements is only $4.5 million, and the estimated annual cost of flood insurance is $3 million, it’s clearly in the best interests of the residents of the area involved to vote to approve such a special taxing district to improve their levee. A mere two years of flood insurance premiums would more than cover the costs of the improvements. Spread that obligation out over say 20 years, and authorizing a tax in order to avoid much higher flood insurance costs makes perfect sense.
The City should immediately draft a ballot issue for the next election creating this new district and placing a mill-levy on the properties within it. But at the same time, it should engage in some serious advertising to the residents to demonstrate the economics of failing to pass the ballot issue. The benefit of this sort of a solution is that only the people who benefit from the improvements pay for the improvements, the money is dedicated to that specific project, and the consequences of not approving the ballot issue are a significantly larger economic burden on property owners on an ongoing basis, year after year.
Those facts would seem to indicate that such a ballot issue would be a slam-dunk for the City. So why hasn’t this been proposed already?
What seems to be happening is the typical “doom-and-gloom” tactics of saying “well, you nitwits trashed the Stormwater Enterprise, so we’re just not going to think out of the box and you are going to suffer the consequences of not letting us do it our way.”
The good news is that the residents of the affected area don’t have to wait for the city to do what the city is supposed to do, they can get together and draft a ballot issue themselves, and save themselves a lot of money in the future.
One has to wonder why a journalist and a bunch of ordinary citizens can come up with a viable idea to resolve the problem within a few minutes of discussion in the comments section of a news story, and yet our highly-paid City Manager cannot? It appears that the dogs in the manger are too busy snarling and snapping at the public to actually do their jobs.
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