Charlottesville's City Council on Tuesday held the first of two readings of an ordinance to charge property owners a fee to raise money to pay for the repair and replacement of the city’s stormwater infrastructure.
“We’re here tonight to present a proposal for funding a water resources protection program through the initiation of a stormwater utility fee,” said Kristel Riddervold
, the city’s environmental administrator.
Since July, Riddervold has worked with staff and an advisory committee to develop a proposal for the fee.
“This is a broad team effort to bring this forward for consideration,” Riddervold said.
The fee would be billed twice a year at the same time property tax bills are due. All of the funds would go entirely toward the program and could not be used for other purposes. Interest would be charged if the fees were not paid by a property owner.
If approved by the council at its next meeting, the new fee would cost up to $3.25 per 1,000 square feet of impervious surface on a property.
Proceeds from the fee would go toward the city’s Water Resources Protection Program.
Riddervold last brought the idea before the City Council in late 2008, but leaders passed on the idea at the time.
“Since 2008, more information is available about the system’s requirements,” Riddervold said. “Many facts are clearer in 2013 than they were in 2008.”
The program currently uses money from its general fund, which comes from property and sales taxes, to repair and replace stormwater pipes.
“At $945,000 a year, we have a program that provides a basic level of service but it is not sufficient to meet the mandates that we see coming for us,” Riddervold said.
The proposed ordinance was prepared with assistance from the firm AMEC Earth and Environmental.
Jean Haggerty, AMEC’s water resources program manager, said that some people have asked whether they can get credit for work they do to reduce runoff.
“Credits have to be tied to the program,” Haggerty said. “You don’t want to be giving people credit for projects that don’t reduce the cost of the city to administer the system.”
Councilor Dave Norris
asked Riddervold if the committee had considered other options other than the fee, which he said should be called a tax.
“When we went through this in 2008, the committee spent a lot more time talking about various funding approaches,” Riddervold said in response. “The recommendation that came to council in 2008 was about the utility fee and that’s what this exercise was focused on.”
One decision facing the council is how much the stormwater fee should be, and another is whether the city should continue to dedicate money from the general fund to the program.
Councilor Kathy Galvin
said she supports continuing to use some of the funding from general tax revenue because of the amount of streets maintained by city government.
“There’s a lot of runoff that private properties don’t generate and I am interested in the lower rate,” Galvin said.
The public hearing was under way at press time.
“The water resources protection program is simple, fair, well-reasoned and a solution to the problem beneath our streets, and we support it,” said Jack Brown, chairman of the Rivanna
Conversation Society and a city resident.
However, some citizens opposed the idea.
“I’m a senior citizen on a fixed income and $3.25 to me means a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk,” said city resident Naomi Roberts. “I know we need to get our pipes fixed but the last council, people let them go.”
City resident Maria Chapel was another supporter of the fee.
“Without a clean Chesapeake Bay we cannot exist,” Chapel said. “There is no more important issue in our world to put our money into than our clean environment.”
The council will hold a second reading of the ordinance Feb. 4.