Urban Forestry Special Charge

The Madison City Council has created and adopted a special charge for the urban forestry program. The special charge will be collected as part of the municipal services bill issued monthly by the Madison Water Utility. This bill also includes water utility, sewer utility, and stormwater utility charges. The special charge will be $4.27 per residential household, per month beginning in February 2017. The moneys generated by this special charge will support the increased costs of urban forestry services and protect the vital services the urban forest provides. The information below provides specific details on this special charge. If you have further questions, please call (608) 243-5899.

Special Charge Policy

Background

The purpose of this policy is to set forth the mechanism by which the City of Madison will apportion the Urban Forestry Special Charge to all real property in the City. The Urban Forestry Special Charge was created by the adoption of ORD-14-00162 on October 30, 2014, and is codified at Madison General Ordinance Sec. 4.095. The Special Charge will be collected as part of the municipal services bill issued monthly by the Madison Water Utility.

The Urban Forestry Special Charge, a special charge on all real property in the City has been established to allow the City to recover its costs in performing the services associated with the City's Urban Forestry Program. The City services provided by the City's urban forestry program ensure a healthy, vibrant and sustainable urban forest, which benefits all residents and properties in the City, as discussed in the ordinance.

The Urban Forestry Special Charge Policy was originally approved by the Common Council on July 7, 2015 by RES-15-00597 and amended on May 17, 2016 by RES-16-00368.

Apportionment Method

The Urban Forestry Special Charge will be apportioned to all parcels in the City, including City-owned parcels, based upon parcel usage categories, aggregate street frontage of the usage categories, and parcel counts within each usage category, such that the net revenue received by the City from the special charges is consistent with the approved special charge amount.

Linear street frontage feet is a justifiable measure for allocating the urban forestry special charge since a majority of the urban forestry program is devoted to maintaining street trees and thus street frontage serves as a reasonable proximate measure of urban forestry services provided. Additionally, the benefits of the urban forestry program extend to all residents and all parcel types. The apportionment method will account for this by equally distributing the special charge between parcels used for the same purpose.

Determining the Charge

After the Common Council approved the annual urban forestry special charge under MGO Sec. 4.095(5) (the "Approved Charge"), staff estimated, based upon the criteria set forth in the policy and the data available to the City, how much special charge revenue, including from City-owned parcels, will need to be generated by the special charge in order to result in net revenue to the City equal to the Approved Charge (the "Special Charge Revenue Target"). For example, if it is expected that 10% of the special charge will be imposed against City-owned lands ("the City Share"), the Special Charge Revenue Target will be 11% more than the Approved Charge to allow the City to actually recover the approved amount of the special charge. The Special Charge Revenue Target will not be greater than the total urban forestry program costs. The formula to determine the Special Charge Revenue Target is as follows:

Special Charge Revenue Target = Approved Charge / (1-City Share)

Based upon existing databases maintained by the Madison Water Utility and the City Assessor’s Office, five categories of parcel uses will be used to apportion the special charge:

  • Commercial/Industrial
  • Multi-family (defined as three or more dwelling units on a parcel)
  • Residential (single and two-family parcels)
  • Stormwater Utility only (parcels whose municipal services bill is only for stormwater utility charges)
  • Government (Federal, State, and Local government owned parcels)

Each parcel is assigned to one of these categories and the total number of parcels in each category is determined along with the aggregate primary street frontage in each category. Each category's percentage of the primary street frontage in the City is determined as follows:

  • Sum the total amount of primary parcel street frontage in the City, excluding Private Medians;
  • Separate this sum into each parcel category;
  • Divide each category's total primary street frontage by the City's total primary street frontage, thereby establishing each parcel category's percentage of primary street frontage in the City.

Each category's share of the Urban Forestry Special Charge is preliminarily calculated by multiplying each category's percentage of total primary street frontage by the Special Charge Revenue Target to establish each category's preliminary share.

Each category's preliminary share is divided equally by the count of parcels in each respective category to arrive at each parcel's total annual urban forestry special charge. This annual charge will then be divided based upon the number of collection periods remaining in the budget year.

Upon written request by a homeowners association to the Parks Division, privately owned parcels that consist solely of an outlot within the public right-of-way and that are owned by homeowners associations may be categorized as Private Medians. Such a request must include the parcel identification numbers of all such privately owned medians of the homeowners association. Once confirmed, Private Medians will be excluded from the calculations set forth below and will not be apportioned any of the Urban Forestry Special Charge.

Upon written request by a developer to the Parks Division, undeveloped platted parcels may be re-categorized for the purposes of administering the charge based upon the approved end use for the parcel. Undeveloped platted parcels are those parcels in subdivided land (either by plat or CSM) that are not currently served by City municipal services and cannot yet be developed. A written request under this provision must include each parcel's parcel identification number, zoning designation, and any other documentation that demonstrates the approved end usage of the parcel. Once confirmed by the Parks Division, these "stormwater only" parcels shall be administratively reclassified based upon this end usage (i.e., a stormwater only residential parcel in an undeveloped subdivision will be reclassified as residential for the purposes of the administration of the Urban Forestry Special Charge).

Annual Update

By September 1 of each year, the Parks Division will update the category parcel count and frontage apportionment ratios using the updated data maintained by the Madison Water Utility and the City Assessor's Office, and taking into account any approved requests made by homeowners associations or developers as set forth above.

2017 Urban Forestry Special Charge Rates

The Approved Charge is $3.9 million in 2017. Based on the Special Charge Revenue Target, the Urban Forestry Special Charge is calculated and set for each individual parcel as identified below.

Usage Classification Percentage of Total City Frontage Share of Total Charge Number of Customers in Classification Annual Charge/Customer Monthly Charge/Customer
Residential 64.3% $2,635,800 51,394 $51.24 $4.27
Multi-Family 5.4% $221,358 2,717 $81.48 $6.79
Stormwater 17.4% $713,264 4,600 $155.04 $12.92
Commercial/Industrial 9.2% $377,129 2,687 $140.40 $11.70
Government 3.7% $151,671 381 $398.04 $33.17
Grand Total 100% $4,099,222 61,779    

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does the Urban Forestry Special Charge exist?

The Urban Forestry Special Charge was created by the adoption of ORD-14-00162 on October 30, 2014, and is codified at Madison General Ordinances Sec. 4.095. Under the Urban Forestry Special Charge, a special charge on all real property in the City has been established to allow the City to recover all urban forestry costs to the City to maintain, protect and grow the City’s urban forest while maintaining existing levels of service associated with the City's urban forestry program. The City services provided by the City's urban forestry program ensure a healthy, vibrant and sustainable urban forest, which benefits all residents and properties in the City.

What will my bill be in 2017?

The Special Charge will be collected as part of the municipal services bill issued monthly by the Madison Water Utility. This bill also includes water utility, sewer utility, and stormwater utility charges. An individual parcel's special charge rate is set by its usage classification as determined by the Madison Water Utility. The 2017 schedule of monthly charges for each individual parcel usage classification is included in the table below.

Usage Classification Monthly Rate
Residential $4.27
Multi-Family $6.79
Stormwater $12.92
Commercial/Industrial $11.70
Government $33.17

How is the rate for each individual parcel set?

A parcel's Urban Forestry Special Charge rate is set through a combination of primary linear street frontage, parcel use (residential, multi-family, commercial/industrial, stormwater utility only, or governmental), and the number of parcels being used for that same purpose. The special charge is apportioned using the following method.

  1. The Madison Water Utility assigns a usage category to each parcel in the City that receives a stormwater utility bill. See the 2017 Urban Forestry Special Charge Rates table above for the usage category count breakdown.

  2. Each category's portion of the urban forestry special charge is determined by that category's parcels' aggregate portion of the city's primary parcel street frontage.

  3. Each parcel's portion of its category's portion is determined by dividing the category's portion of street frontage by the number of parcels in the category.

  4. Each parcel's annual charge is determined by multiplying the parcel's portion of the charge (as determined in step 3) by the total annual revenue target*.

  5. Each parcel's monthly charge will then be determined by dividing the result of step 4 by the number of billing cycles in the year.

* The Special Charge Revenue Target is set above the Approved Charge, which are set by the Common Council, to allow City agencies to recover the approved amount of the special charge.

Why not directly link the rates to individual parcel's primary street frontage?

Directly tying individual parcels primary street frontage to the charge has several shortcomings:

  1. This method would place disproportionally high burden on a small number of select parcels while providing only minimal savings to a large number of parcels.

  2. Per Madison General Ordinances Sec. 4.095, no parcels are exempt from paying the Urban Forestry Special Charge. Apportioning the special charge by linear street frontage would lead to more than 900 parcels not paying the Urban Forestry Special Charge as they do not have positive primary street frontage. The Urban Forest provides benefits to all parcels in the City, and those parcels without positive primary street front cannot legally be exempt from paying the Urban Forestry Special Charge.

  3. Finally, apportioning the charge by individual linear street frontage would incur significantly more upfront and ongoing administrative costs. The selected policy can be administered efficiently and immediately for less than $10,000 in set up costs and minimal ongoing staff time. Implementing the charge by individual parcel linear street frontage, meanwhile, is estimated to cost at least three times the set up cost and would require near constant ongoing staff time throughout the year to ensure individual parcel Urban Forestry Special Charges are being administered accurately.

Why do parcels that have adjacent street trees pay the same amount as those that do not have adjacent street trees?

A healthy, vibrant, and sustainable urban forest provides benefits to all residents of Madison through a number of ways and not just to those who have parcels adjacent to City trees. Urban trees enhance the quality of oxygen, retain stormwater run-off, increase property values, and overall quality of life. Thus, residents of all parcel types shall help uphold the quality of the urban forest in the City of Madison.

Why are property taxes not enough to cover Urban Forestry costs?

Maintaining a healthy urban forest does not come without a cost and these costs are increasing as the City executes its Emerald Ash Borer Mitigation plan. The State of Wisconsin, however, limits the City of Madison in the amount of money it can raise through the property tax levy to pay for urban forestry maintenance costs. Thus, the City must seek alternative ways to raise revenues to help pay for urban forestry services it provides.

Where does the money that is collected go and what is it used for?

The Urban Forestry Special Charge revenues will be collected through Madison Municipal Services bill and be allocated into a designated fund. These funds will then be used specifically to pay for the costs already incurred by the City to support the services of the urban forestry program. These costs include mitigating Emerald Ash Borer, new trees, replacement trees, staff maintenance time, and forestry maintenance equipment.

Urban Forestry Special Charge

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