9 Investigates: Flood plains impact on storm water services, fees

by: Andrew Doud Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

When the programs started, most of the money used to buy homes came from federal dollars, but now local taxpayers are footing the bill.

Eyewitness News investigated and uncovered that if there isn't a change soon, your water bill might go up to cover the cost.

Jerry Connell bought a house on Dunlavin Way in east Charlotte in 1987.

At the time, he saw it as an investment opportunity, but when the time came to sell, Connell said, it's location has turned buyers aware.

"As soon as they find out it is in a flood plain, they are done. They walk away," said Connell.

He said in the time he has owned the home, flood waters only threatened it once.

"The water was just getting ready to go in the door," said Connell.

It got under his house and ruined the duct work, but the damage was not significant enough for Connell to even file an insurance claim.

 Nonetheless, he has not tried to put it back on the market, but there is an option for homeowners like Connell who want to sell but can't.

For more than 10 years, the county has been working to buy houses in flood prone areas by offering homeowners fair market values.

The houses are then turned down and the vacant lot becomes a natural wetland or greenway.

Tim Trautman is with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services.

"We have been successful at procuring a lot of federal grant dollars as well as local storm water fees and combining that together to remove more than 450 families from the flood plain of the last 13 years," he said.

But Trautman said they still have more than 1,000 homes that he calls elevated risk homes that the county would consider purchasing.

Until about a year ago, Trautman said 75 percent of the program was paid for with FEMA grant dollars, the other 25 percent came from local storm water fees, but nearly all of the federal money has dried up.

"So we are using a higher percentage of local dollars for the kinds of efforts the last year or two," said Trautman.

The average homeowner in the Charlotte area pays between $7 and $9 each month in storm water fees.

Trautman said if they can't acquire more federal dollars than they may have to increase the storm water fee in the years to come, but they can't say when or even if that would happen.

The housing market is also creating a separate set of challenges.

Some homes were worth much more in the mid-2000s, before the economic downturn.

"There are some fold who are not in a position to be able to sell us the home for the market value because of when they purchased it," said Trautman.

"I would not make the money now that I would then, but I would still entertain the thought of selling it," said Connell.

For now, Connell will hold on to it as a rental property.

The county said some homeowners can't sell even if they want to because they owe more on their home than the fair market value the county would offer.