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Area officials looking to adopt hazardous substance fee structures

BY REBECCA MORIN | OCTOBER 29, 2013 5:00 AM

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Johnson County-based businesses with a large amount of extremely hazardous substances may have to start paying more to store their materials.

With 86 businesses in the county storing extremely hazardous substances, Johnson County Emergency Coordinator Dave Wilson said, moving from taxpayer-based funding to funding based on risk of the chemicals companies are storing would be beneficial for area residents.

“It incentivizes businesses to carry less [dangerous] substances,” he said. “It removes the burden of the taxpayers; if you were a taxpayer in Iowa City, why should you pay for a service predominantly based on folks who store extremely hazardous substances? So it shifts that burden from a taxpayer to an entity.”

A joint meeting on Tuesday evening at the Iowa City Public Library discussed the fee; the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, University of Iowa officials, and representatives from the City Councils of Coralville, Hills, Iowa City, Oxford, North Liberty, Solon, Tiffin, and University Heights attended.

Representatives from the Clear Creek/Amana and Iowa City School Districts were also in attendance.

Cedar Rapids is the only city in Iowa that charges businesses for storing hazardous materials; several other cities in surrounding states, such as Peoria, Ill., have also switched to the fee structure.

Wilson said he expects the fee to pass; it would go into effect in July 2014.

The change will help fund the cost of the Johnson County HAZMAT team. It currently costs about $71,000 to fund the HAZMAT team. With the fee change, the the funds will nearly double to about $131,000.

A company that has a large storage of dangerous substances has a higher risk of a spill. With the current funding for the team, it is more expensive for responders to address a company with that risk.

“There are certain businesses in the community you can assume … have a lot of material, and so companies like that obviously are going to have to store a lot more material, too,” said Terrence Neuzil, the vice chairman of the Johnson County Supervisors. “The question is, do we have the resources capable of being able to handle [a substance] spill? At least of [a wide-scale] nature.”

The UI would be the entity to pay the largest in fees, which would be approximately $25,000 at most to store the substances, Wilson said.

With the new fee, officials hope businesses will store fewer hazardous materials. However, one Johnson County supervisor said the fee will cause more businesses to transport more substances because of using the material faster, which could lead to more interstate accidents.

“It’s one of those things that if we decide to raise taxes in Johnson County for HAZMAT, we’re essentially taxing our businesses just for locating here, as property taxes,” Johnson County Supervisor John Etheredge said. “When you look at where HAZMAT reports occur mainly, it is interstate accidents.”

Etheredge also said the fee would encourage businesses to move to neighboring counties so they could cheaply store their substances.

“What we’re doing is taxing businesses, and in an essence, truly if the businesses are looking at locating in Johnson County, and they see that they’re going to be charging a fee just to have stuff that’s critical stored here for their business, they’re going to take it to the county next door,” he said.


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