In Public Outreach Success Story, City of Salem, Ore., Creates Stormwater Utility

Presenter: Robert D. Chandler, City of Salem, Ore.
Session 14: Funding Issues

In Salem, Ore., stormwater services were funded primarily by wastewater ratepayers. However, Salem’s Public Works Department (PWD) wanted to create a dedicated funding source for stormwater services that would better reflect the link between service costs and customers’ impacts on the stormwater system. The rate system, based on impervious surface area, meant that some customers, such as government offices, churches, schools, and commercial properties, would be significantly affected. This was compounded by the recession and the city’s 10.7% unemployment rate. However, in Dec. 2010, in a 6–2 vote with one abstention, the Salem City Council passed the measure to create a stormwater utility. The city even received positive comments from the media in the Statesman Journal. PWD attributes its success to an aggressive 12-month outreach effort.

PWD not only reached out to stakeholders but engaged and created relationships with them. PWD made changes to its proposed rate structure and other aspects of the program based on feedback, particularly from a Water/Wastewater Task Force made up of elected officials and utility customers. PWD consistently conveyed three simple talking points and created “frequently asked questions” documents, reports, and presentations. It targeted outreach efforts toward customers who would be most affected, acknowledging impacts and risks and trying to reduce them where possible. Another key to success was an educated electoral body actualized through meetings with the chamber of commerce, work sessions, and a two-part public hearing with the City Council.

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