Sales tax has no link to stormwater issue

A general officer once criticized a briefing I gave him by saying, “Major Lentz, you’ve been drinking your own bath water.”

In that picturesque tradition, I suggest that the Fayette County Commissioners have been drinking their own stormwater.

The proposal for a stormwater special purpose local option sales tax (S-SPLOST) is about the most incomprehensible and wrong thing to have come out of that body in a long time.

First, we need to define our terms: we’re talking about “stormwater management,” and stormwater management isn’t just about culverts and drain pipes, as the commissioners seem to think (or want us to think).

Stormwater management includes all rainwater runoff that must be properly channeled in order to prevent flooding and to reduce pollution, including chemicals and suspended sediment, in streams and lakes.

Stormwater management is a federal mandate (unfunded, of course). It involves educating people about the potential impact of pet poop on bacterial contamination of the drinking water supply.

It involves keeping debris out of drains by sweeping streets and parking lots.

It involves inspecting industrial sites for pollutants that may wash into the drinking water supply.

It involves much, much more. To describe stormwater management as drain pipes and culverts is facile and misleading.

Second: most of stormwater management calls for controlling runoff from impervious surfaces: in simple terms, roofs, parking lots, cart paths, and streets.

The largest individual contributors to runoff are shopping centers, big box stores, schools, municipalities, and churches. By and large, these entities do not pay sales tax.

An S-SPLOST would put the burden of paying to control their runoff onto the rest of us. Unfairly, in my opinion.

Why? Simply because the amount of money any individual or organization pays in sales taxes does not likely equate to his, her, or its contribution to runoff.

Only a formulation as developed by the Peachtree City stormwater utility (and the Fayette County stormwater utility — until the current administration got hold of it) … only a formulation based on impervious surfaces is a fair and responsible way to pay for stormwater management.

Third: Peachtree City already collects a stormwater fee based on impervious surfaces. The S-SPLOST would generate (it is estimated) nearly $13 million for Peachtree City. Would the city then eliminate the stormwater fee?

Not in your or my lifetime. Would the city use this money to reduce property taxes? Same answer.

Look for “official” support of this option, which would provide city government an additional $13 million to spend, willy-nilly.

As long as we accept the federal mandate, and as long as we want to reduce the risk of flooding and reduce pollution in our drinking water supply, stormwater management is a legitimate function of local government.

I generally oppose any tax, such as the abortive T-SPLOST or the existing garbage franchise fee in Peachtree City, that is earmarked for a specific government service because it takes that service and money off the table and out of competition with other services when it comes time to balance the budget.

However, earmarking money for stormwater management through a utility and fees based on an individual or organization’s contribution to runoff is a responsible exception.

Fayette County has adopted a stormwater utility. It appears that a few people who weren’t paying attention during its two-year or so incubation process made a lot of noise.

It appears that a few politicians, who weren’t part of the process and who may not understand the issues, have overreacted in the wrong direction to that noise.

We the people must take back our government. As a step in that direction, we must defeat this proposal.

Paul Lentz, curmudgeon

Peachtree City, Ga.