Myrtle Beach’s stormwater utility fee explained

Since 1999, Myrtle Beach has addressed stormwater management and maintenance with a monthly utility fee, charged to residential and commercial properties alike based on the amount of runoff that each site generates.  Much progress has been made in the nearly 20 years since the fee began, as evidenced by our lack of flooding and property damage inside the city from recent storms.

In the 1990s, City Council opted for a utility fee, rather than a tax, because stormwater isn’t related to the value of the property, but it is related to how the property drains and where the water goes.  A 10-story hotel on a quarter-acre lot won’t create much more stormwater than a single-family home on the same size lot, but the tax value of the two is substantially different.  As a result, the fee is based on the amount of impervious surface – roof, driveway, parking area, etc. – that sheds rainwater.

After much study, staff determined that an average single family residence has about 5,000 square feet of impervious surface.  That amount then became the yardstick for measuring a site’s contribution to the stormwater problem, and it’s known as an Equivalent Residential Unit, or one ERU.  For a single-family residence or detached townhome in Myrtle Beach, the formula for the stormwater management fee is extremely straightforward:  one ERU per month, billed with the property’s water bill.

The formula is nearly as simple for multifamily apartments or condominiums.  Eighty percent of the total area is divided by 5,000 to arrive at the number of ERUs for the property.  If tenants receive individual water bills, they will pay an equal share of those ERUs.  If, instead, the complex receives one master water bill, then that’s where the ERUs will be billed.

For commercial properties, the fee is figured in the same way (80 percent of the total area, divided by 5,000 = the number of ERUs).  In the late 1990s, city staff carefully studied a variety of multifamily and commercial properties to arrive at this fair formula, again using 5,000 square feet of impervious surface, or one ERU, as the base measurement.

Council approved the stormwater utility fee in 1999 because it more fairly distributes the cost of managing and maintaining the ever-growing stormwater control system among those properties that contribute to the problem and those that benefit most from it.  Today, the monthly fee is just $6.25 per ERU for residential customers.  The city uses that money to maintain the existing stormwater system, to acquire more property as needed and to build additional stormwater infrastructure.

Thanks to years of work, a heavy rainfall today is handled through a drainage system that the city built and maintains, in large part due to the stormwater utility fee.  Miles of drainage canals and pipes need regular maintenance if they’re to do the job.  The fee pays for regular upkeep, especially in residential areas.  The stormwater fee also pays for easements that give the city access to problem drainage areas on private property.

Speaking of stormwater, one of Myrtle Beach’s projects recently was recognized with an “excellent” rating.  The EPA program acknowledges innovation in clean water infrastructure and honored Myrtle Beach for its Fourth Avenue North Deepwater Ocean Outfall.  The city received an excellent rating for the project, which includes pre-cast concrete pipes that extend 1,400 feet under the ocean and tie into a stormwater collection system underneath the boardwalk.  See the EPA release online at https://ria.sc.gov/casestudy/city-of-myrtle-beach/.