The Duluth Public Utilities Commission is poised to take up a plan Tuesday that would substantially increase the fees property owners and businesses pay to cover the cost of maintaining the city's stormwater sewer infrastructure.

But David Ross, president of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, is requesting commissioners tap the brakes on the proposed rate hike.

In a letter sent Monday to the Duluth City Council, Mayor Emily Larson and members of the Public Utilities Commission, Ross cited a passage in the resolution: "It should be noted that the proposed plan is not cast in concrete. Should circumstances arise making it prudent to deviate from this plan, the DPUC can modify the plan in response to those changing circumstances."

Ross goes on to write: "Our local circumstances are clearly changing as the vast majority of our member businesses are struggling mightily with the financial hardship precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, we respectfully request the Commission to delay the proposed implementation of the stormwater rate increases for one year, from Jan. 1, 2021 to Jan. 1, 2022."

If the commission agrees to postpone the rate increases as proposed, Ross said, "The Chamber will not oppose the commission's six-year plan for increasing stormwater rates to fund necessary capital improvements to the city's stormwater system."

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The commission has proposed to boost stormwater fees by 11.25% annually for each of the next six years. Local homeowners would see the monthly stormwater fee they pay on their utility bills climb from the current charge of $6.75 to $12.80 by 2026. Many businesses would see even larger increases.

Owners of commercial properties would be charged based on how much impervious surface they have, with discounts offered for sites where best management practices are employed to slow and reduce runoff.

Duluth's stormwater infrastructure includes about 411 miles of pipe, nearly 11,000 catch basins, 5,000 manholes, 2,500 culverts and more than 100 miles of open ditch.

The city currently spends about $1.1 million per year to maintain its stormwater system. However, Tom Johnson, a senior engineer for the city, contends Duluth really should be spending about $4.6 million annually to properly maintain its stormwater infrastructure, some of which dates back to the 1800s.

A public hearing on the proposed rate increases is slated to begin at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday. The public can access the meeting and testify at duluthmn.gov/live-meeting, where there will be a meeting link to the Duluth Public Utilities Commission. Written comments may also be sent to jbenning@duluthmn.gov prior to the meeting.