By Don Ford

ALAMEDA (KPIX 5) — Alameda residents could see their fees more than double to keep the city’s storm drains open, and people are asking why the sudden spike.

By their very nature, underground utilities are out of sight and out of mind. But when it comes to storm drains, the City of Alameda says it’s time to pony up.

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Homeowners pay $56 a year to keep their storm drains open. The city wants to add $78 for a total of $134. The drains and related pumps are simply too old, said Public Works Director Liam Garland.

“We’ve got so many needs within our system,” said Garland. “Again, those 1940’s pump stations, that’s a real need. We need to make sure those things get replaced.”

The city has 29 of those pumps, 1,967 storm water drains for 126 miles of buried pipes that drain into the bay. The current $56 fee has been the same for 15 years.

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Homeowner Debbi Ryan says her street sometimes floods but also says preparing for climate change is important, too. “It is a big percentage jump,” said Ryan. “After 70 years of some of our infrastructure not being updated, you know, for somebody who’s going to hopefully stay here for many years to come, you know, we have to invest.”

But it’s not a done deal. The city is mailing voter cards to property owners for approval calling it a fee, not a tax.

“A tax you need two-thirds of a vote and a fee you need … 50 percent plus one,” explained homeowner Pat Potter explained.

Garland said the money generated by the storm drain fee cannot be siphoned off to other needs. “Alamedans can rest assured that money will stick with our storm drain system with the maintenance operations and capital needs,” said Garland.

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The results of the mail-in ballot won’t be known until November 25th. If approved, the new rate would begin in November 2020.