Mayor vetoes Council decision to bill PSB for stormwater
by Sito Negron
Posted on August 14, 2008
El Paso Mayor John Cook today vetoed the decision by City Council to bill the Public Service Board for work done by city crews in draining water from streets. [See mayor's veto statement via link below.]
The motion, by city Rep. Eddie Holguin, passed on a 4-3 vote.
Cook's explanation for the veto touched on the fine points of the law. He said that the state law under which the stormwater utility was established has very detailed descriptions of what a stormwater fee can be used to pay for.
"Nowhere does it say streets," Cook said.
So the advice he got from the city attorney's office was that if the Public Service Board ends up paying the city for vacuuming water from the streets with money generated from the fee, it could raise a legal question: "What if somebody refused to pay their bill and said 'You can't charge me a fee for that, it's on the street and you don’t have a legal right to' and then they take us to court."
He added that the cost might cause the PSB to raise the stormwater fees. However, it's unclear how much, if at all, since stormwater response might have cost the city a relatively negligible tens of thousands, not to mention that the PSB also might have incurred costs on behalf of the city.
The veto was only the mayor's second. The first, about three months ago, was to overturn the City Council's opposition to a large new home in the Austin Terrace Historic District.
Holguin did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
City Rep. Emma Acosta, one of the votes in favor of Holguin's motion, said her intent was to clarify the expenses involved in storm response.
During discussion on the issue, City Manager Joyce Wilson told City Council that the city retained some flood response equipment and personnel, and had a transition agreement with the PSB to handle some areas where there might be overlap. For example, since the city still has road maintenance responsibility, when flood waters pool on the roadway, the city would handle it.
While Holguin said if water falls from the sky, it's stormwater, and as such now the PSB responsibility, Acosta said that she didn't have a problem with the city retaining some responsibility.
Her point was that since the city and the PSB were keeping detailed records of who did what after each storm, there ought to be an accounting, and if one owes money to the other, pay up. Acosta said that was what she thought she was voting for.
"If they're already documenting this … why not reconcile costs at the end of each storm?"
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