Berkeley to discuss how to fund $208M projected costs of clean water infrastructure

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Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff

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Berkeley’s Clean Stormwater Fund is running an annual deficit of $2.5 million, while the city faces $208 million in projected costs to continue paying for stormwater infrastructure, as outlined by  the Watershed Management Plan, which was adopted by the City Council at its meeting Oct. 30, 2012.

The city will hold meetings in late February and March in order to solicit public opinion on a ballot measure that will allocate money to fund This money would be used to improve water quality, diminish pollution and reduce floods.

“We are expecting even more unfunded mandates,” Councilmember Kriss Worthington said. “The state and the regional Water Quality Control Board keep adding additional requirements that the city has to pay for.”

According to the Water Management Plan, the purpose of the plan is to create an “integrated and sustainable strategy for managing urban water resources” to create a balance between the urban environment and nature, specifically targeting water quality, flooding and aquatic habitat preservation.

Despite the impending multimillion dollar budget deficit, Worthington said he still believes that the structural improvements provided by the Water Management Plan would be worth it.

“It’s a small price to pay to protect the environment and also to meet the weather and water control requirements,” Worthington said.

Community Environmental Advisory Commissioner Liz Varnhagen said that in order to supplement the expenses of maintenance of stormwater infrastructure, the city hired a consultant to survey property owners in Berkeley on whether they would support an added $40 annual fee on top of their property taxes. According to Varnhagen, the survey results showed that people were willing to pay for water maintenance.

The proposal is important to reduce the debt and create financial sustainability, according to Worthington. He added that the money is enough to develop a long-term financial plan.

Worthington also said this plan will be good for businesses, because he said it will help stop the flooding that has been happening in both the residential and business areas of Berkeley.

Varnhagen said she believes that this is an important issue and emphasized that the extra fee increase will help improve the Berkeley community.

“I think we need to support our city workers. They’re just trying to perform services for the community and we need to try to work with them … (and) support them to the extent that we can if they ask for a modest fee increase,” Varnhagen said. “If (the city) can account for what the money is going for, I think we can support that, … but they have to be accountable.”

Contact Sabrina Dong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Berkeley’s Clean Stormwater Fund is running a budget deficit of $208 million. In fact, it has an annual deficit of $2.5 million.

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