An 18-month effort to collect about $3 million a year for San Bruno’s stormwater system improvements failed at the ballot box with about 1,833 yes votes and 3,310 no votes, leaving officials to figure out a way to fill a $1 million gap this fiscal year.
The effort would have meant the average bill rate would leap from $46 annually to $154 — an increase of about 234%, according to a city report.
In March, residents voiced their concern with the proposal, suggesting that any increase was too much and that the city should look elsewhere to fund needed improvements.
After the measure’s loss, the city has to quickly find another solution to fill a $1 million deficit in the 2021-22 stormwater budget. On top of that, there is a need to address the stormwater long range financial plan for subsequent years to come starting with this year.
“The fund is projected to go negative in the 2021-22 fiscal year and a precipitous decline of continued negative activity,” City Manager Jovan Grogan said, stressing the importance to the council of taking action during its special meeting June 22.
The system is estimated to be 120 years old, and recently has struggled to accommodate the increased demand brought with population growth. The need for fixes are becoming more frequent, system breaks are occurring and safety as well as budget threats are becoming more severe, officials said. There remains a total of $30 million needed for Stormwater Master Plan projects staff identified in 2017.
The current fee does not cover operating costs or capital expenditures. There are four active stormwater projects: the regional stormwater capture project at interstates 280 and 380, the trash capture device design and installation, the stormwater pipeline replacement and the spyglass drive storm drain improvements project.
The regional stormwater capture project is carrying just over $1.1 million. Staff has obtained grants and do not need additional funds at this time for that project but there will be significant future needs for the project, Grogan said.
A local project is the spyglass drive storm drain improvements. There are approximately eight homes that have flooded in prior years due to a design issue in the storm drain system that does not have enough capacity for significant storms. The project is approximately $1.9 million. The council did advance approximately $300,000 in prior funds to this project and the staff also applied for grants. It received a $1.2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Assistance program and had to pay a grant match of $400,000.
“So even when you have a grant, you have to have some local funding. That is one challenge we have to find a way to resolve this year,” Grogan said.
The trash capture device design project needs an additional $156,000 and the stormwater pipeline replacement had $450,000 set aside for it. Four options to address the immediate $1 million deficit are reducing stormwater expenses, reducing/eliminating public services funded by the baseline general fund budget, appropriating funds from Measure G, and appropriating funds from American Rescue Plan Act. Grogan’s recommendation was to adopt the resolution and to include the funding of the 2021-22 stormwater $1 million deficit through Measure G or ARPA or a combination of both. Measure G was a half-cent general purpose sales tax and is projected to bring in $3.5 million in the next fiscal year.
“It’s difficult to have property owners pay more. But the council did the right thing in making the tough call to follow the law to attempt to raise those fees because we’re seeing now that the current money isn’t making it,” Vice Mayor Marty Medina said.
The council agreed to meet for a study session to continue discussions before embarking on a specific effort to launch a renewed effort for the stormwater financial challenges. It also discussed plans to conduct a survey of the property owners to better understand why the fee effort was not successful.
“I see this current dilemma that we have now not as a one-time million-dollar hole but as an ongoing commitment to our general fund now,” Councilmember Michael Salazar said.
There were 5,226 mail ballots counted. Eighty-three ballots were rejected for reasons including the signature being missing, no choice was marked, if it was unclear if it was yes or no, and for duplicate ballots. Ballots received after the deadline were not counted.
(650) 344-5200, ext. 105