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$450,000 of Grand Rapids income tax to be spent on environmental upgrades

$450,000 of Grand Rapids income tax to be spent on environmental upgrades
$450,000 of Grand Rapids income tax to be spent on environmental upgrades

On Tuesday, September 18, the City Commission of Grand Rapids, Michigan, approved a $450,000 asset management plan that will put in place better controls for the city's public stormwater system, Michigan Live reports.

According to the news source, the city will fund the project using its Transformation Fund, which draws its money from a five-year income tax increase that was voted on in 2010. Through the plan, the city will take inventory of the current stormwater system, marking where any repairs are needed. Once identified, the repairs would be paid for by a new revenue stream created strictly for maintenance. One consultant's report stated the program could be paid for through a stormwater utility fee.

"Grand Rapids cannot continue to push this problem down the road," said Rachel Hood, executive director of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. "If we delay, we will have less time, less flexibility and fewer resources at hand to comply with increasing (state and federal stormwater) regulation."

The measure to use income tax money to develop the stormwater plan was passed 4-2, with First Ward Commissioner Dave Shaffer opposing the program on the grounds that taxpayers should not have to bear the weight of the stormwater project, and their money could be spent more wisely elsewhere.

"I understand there’s an environmental issue here that we’re trying to address," Shaffer said. "I just think it’s money that would be taken away from core services (like public safety)."

However, Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly stated that the lack of maintenance over the years has led to hundreds of sinkholes and flooded streets, making the repairs "extremely important in terms of public safety."

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell sided with the majority, stating that any "smart city" should develop plans to maintain its assets.

The city's stormwater maintenance program will need to comply with all standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA states that polluted stormwater can be transported through Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s) which can often flow untreated into a city's bodies of water. To keep pollutants from entering an MS4, utility operators must obtain a NPDES permit and create a stormwater management program. 

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