SHALIMAR — The implementation of an Okaloosa County stormwater utility, along with fees charged to property owners in unincorporated areas, took a big step toward becoming a reality Tuesday.

That’s when the County Commission agreed to have its staff examine different aspects of developing that type of utility, which could address the county’s huge backlog of stormwater repair projects and be funded at least in part with revenue from monthly or annual fees.

The county has more than $70 million worth of unfunded stormwater infrastructure needs, county Public Works Director Jason Autrey told commissioners Tuesday at their monthly workshop. That total represents the cost of needed repairs — not new projects or expansions of the existing stormwater system, he said.

Autrey said the county spends $1.3 million annually on repairs. At that rate, it would take the county almost 54 years to make all of the current needed repairs to pumps, drainage pipes and other types of stormwater infrastructure.

Most of the funding for the county’s stormwater division comes from revenue generated by a Municipal Service Taxing Unit assessment charged to property owners. Supplemental funding comes from gas tax and property tax revenue.

County officials have discussed reducing the MSTU assessment, which is meant to pay for park projects, if a stormwater utility and utility fee are implemented.

“The reason we’re doing this (considering the utility and fee) is because we’re running out of money,” Commissioner Nathan Boyles said at the workshop. “We’ve been stealing from the MSTU fund.”

Commission Vice Chairman Graham Fountain said the potential fee would be a tax.

“Any charge we use to fund government is a tax,” he said.


County officials said that unlike the MSTU assessment, which is based on property values, a stormwater utility fee would be tied to property owners’ impact on the stormwater system.

Among other issues, the commission directed the staff to study methods of calculating the possible utility fee. For example, it could be based on a property’s total square footage of impervious surfaces, such as roofs, driveways, parking lots and sidewalks that do not absorb rainwater.

According to county information, Okaloosa has a total of 49,129 “equivalent residential units” (ERUs). One unit is equal to an average single-family home that has 4,100 square feet of impervious surface.

A conceptual, annual stormwater utility fee of $31.90 per ERU would generate $1.5 million in annual revenue to pay for stormwater system expenses.

While the owner of an average single-family home — equal to one ERU — would conceptually be charged $31.09, the owners of larger buildings that have a greater amount of impervious surface would be charged higher fees.

For example, a multi-family residence, such as an apartment building with 12,430 square feet of impervious surface and 3.03 ERUs, would be charged $96.66. The fee for a shopping center with 79,158 square feet of impervious surface and 19.31 ERUs would be about $616.

The county would need a consultant to “come up with a fee structure that’s equitable across all types of properties,” County Administrator John Hofstad said.

Hoftstad served as Fort Walton Beach’s utilities director when it began its stormwater utility and fee in 2008. Niceville also has a stormwater utility and fee.


Among other considerations, the County Commission could decide to exempt some properties such as churches and other kinds of houses of worship from the county’s possible utility fee.

At this point, governmental properties would not be charged the fee, County Attorney Greg Stewart said.

Fountain said making churches pay the fee would be a “deal breaker” when it comes to his support of the possible assessment.

But Boyles expressed concern about what he called “feel-good exemptions.”

“I don’t understand,” he said. “We’re not talking about a tax, but a fee that would address impacts to the system. I don’t think they (churches) have a problem with paying for their impact to the system.”

After more discussion, Stewart told the commission that exempting certain properties would have consequences.

“The issue you have to recognize is if you exempt a property, you cannot push that cost onto his neighbor,” he said. “So you have to come up with another revenue source to fill that hole in the budget, which may reduce your ability to reduce the MSTU.”

Another subject that will need to be studied to implement a stormwater utility is the possible reduction of fees for owners who decrease their impact on the stormwater system. For example, credits could be given to an owner who builds a stormwater retention pond on his or her property.

Fort Walton Beach started its stormwater utility in October 2008 with a monthly fee rate of $3 per ERU, City Manager Michael Beedie said via email Wednesday. The ERUs were originally based off of 2,700 square feet of impervious surface, he said.

The fee rate has been gradually increased in recent years and is now set at $4.50 per ERU, or $54 per year. The fee is tacked onto property owner’s monthly utility bills.

Beedie said the fee “is not set up like an assessment, and therefore, the fee was implemented citywide with no exemptions. However, after the first year, the city and School Board agreed that the schools would not pay the stormwater fee.”

For the current fiscal year, the fee is projected to produce $970,866, Beedie said.

Of that total, $320,038 is allocated for personnel costs, $191,422 is set aside for operating expenses, $60,465 is earmarked for the purchase of new equipment and $90,000 is allocated for a capital improvement project.

“The Stormwater Utility Fund does not have any outstanding debt,” Beedie said. “The remainder of the funds is placed in reserves or interfund transfers for services.”