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Specializing in Environmental Law and Real Property Law

Rain Dance = Rain Tax?

Some Michigan municipalities currently collect fees for stormwater drainage. Those fees are often criticized. Are they user fees or taxes subject to the Headlee Amendment? What about the benefits conferred on the property owner by these programs, are they proportional to the amount of the fees?

A bill introduced last week in the Michigan House of Representatives seeks to address some of the complaints. House Bill No: 4100, the proposed “Stormwater Utility Act,” would provide the legal authority to local units of government to create stormwater management utilities. The proposed act would allow local units of governments to manage stormwater on a quantitative basis [volume and rate] as well as a qualitative basis [reduction, elimination or treatment of pollutants].

The proposed act provides procedures to set up such a utility and grants such utilities the authority to collect “stormwater utility fees.” On its face, the proposed fee provisions appear to grant flexibility in setting and making future adjustments to these fees. Utilities would be required to reduce the fee amount when a property owner makes improvements to reduce or eliminate stormwater discharges. The proposed Act also requires such utilities to establish an appeals board to hear grievances on the extent a property uses a stormwater system or challenge the amount of the fee.

It remains to be seen whether House Bill No: 4100 becomes law and whether it fosters the creation of Stormwater Utilities. Until then, in most areas of our State, the rain is still free.