Sandy residents probably get a little edgy whenever the heavens open.

Despite years of vigorous residential and commercial growth, the city still relies largely on an aged network of irrigation canals to handle storm water runoff.

The reliability of the canal system is something of a public works crap shoot - sometimes it works, sometimes it fails.

Sandy paid about $140,000 in flooding claims in 1996 after a handful of homes were inundated with storm water, city spokesman Rick Davis said. The city maintains a risk management insurance policy that helped cover those costs.

Recognizing the risks, city leaders commissioned a study to find ways to develop and fund an improved storm water drainage system.

The costly truth?

Effectively handling storm water won't come cheap.

The recently completed study estimates the city will need to spend about $56 million over the next three decades to complete 112 projects. In most cases, the city would lay underground pipe to divert storm water.

If the City Council decides to move forward with the 30-year project, the biggest debate will undoubtedly revolve around how to raise needed revenues.

An 18-member citizen committee - consisting of homeowners, along with business and church representatives - were given the charge to study and recommend funding options.

The least painless proposed option, Davis said, appears to be a monthly service fee based on property size.

Average homeowners would pay $3 - while businesses, churches and schools would pay on an "equivalent residential unit" scale. (If a store, say, has property stretching over 30 would-be home lots, the monthly fee would be $90.)

Other options include bonding for the entire project, but that's unlikely. Year-to-year funding is thought to be best, Davis said.

The city could also absorb the estimated $2 million needed for annual storm water improvements through the city's general fund.

Again, an unlikely choice.

"The general fund would take a real hit to do it that way," Davis said.

A property tax increase would likely be an expensive, unpopular option. If the City Council moves in that direction, the average Sandy homeowner would see their annual property taxes increase by about $150.

A water rate increase? Funding the proposed improvement project that way would cost most residents an additional $65 per year, Davis said.

Expect a lengthy discussion from City Council members and residents before an option, if any, is approved.

"I'd do better predicting the winner of the Super Bowl," Davis said.

A public hearing on the matter is set for 7 p.m. May 26 at City Hall, 10000 Centennial Parkway.