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A River Runs to It
Council takes first step in enacting stormwater fee
Image of stormwater basin downstream from Stonefield
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Credit: City of Charlottesville
A view looking downstream into the drainage basin east of Stonefield
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by Sean Tubbs | Wednesday, February 06, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.

The City Council gave its initial approval Monday to enacting a fee to raise money to augment Charlottesville’s deteriorating stormwater infrastructure.

“The ordinance would enact a stormwater utility fee that allocates the costs of the water resources protection program to property owners based on their impervious surface,” said Kristel Riddervold, the city’s environmental administrator.
 
Councilors had not been ready to proceed with a reading of the ordinance when it was last before them in January.
 
Instead, they asked for changes, including basing the fee on a smaller billing unit than 1,000 feet; the creation of an ongoing advisory committee to monitor the program; and protections for 
low-income property owners.
 
“We looked at a potential model to provide an assistance program based on the real estate tax relief and disabled program,” Riddervold said.
 
The fee, which the council will vote on at its Feb. 19 meeting, will now be set at $1.20 per 500 square feet of impervious surface. Billing would occur twice a year, at the same time property taxes are billed.
 
Riddervold said half of property owners would pay more with the smaller billing unit, and the other half would pay less.  
 
Another change involves stronger language to assist low-income property owners.
 
“It [now] provides for a system of credits for the installation, operation and maintenance of stormwater management facilities that achieve permanent reductions in [stormwater] flow,” 
Riddervold said. “It is anticipated that there will be an incentives program through the water resources protection program to help assist homeowners with practices that support the goals of 
the program.”
 
The fee will bring in an additional $1.6 million each year in revenues that will be dedicated for stormwater replacement and repair.
 
The city will continue spending $945,000 from its general fund on the stormwater program. Riddervold said this would cover the cost of impervious surfaces under the cty’s control.
 
“Of the nearly 99 million square feet of impervious cover in the city, the impervious cover associated with city-owned parcels and [streets] is 34 percent,” Riddervold said.
 
There are 57 properties in the city that are under 300 square feet and Riddervold said they would be exempt from the fee.
 
Several people spoke out against the program during the council’s public comment period.
 
“We have a lot of retired people in the city and it's hard enough paying our utilities,” said Naomi Roberts. 
 
City resident John Heyden objected to attempts to make it easier for low-income people to avoid the fee.
 
“You don’t want the poor folks to have to pay their fair share, but the last time I checked, God rains on the poor man as much as the rich man,” Heyden said.
 
Councilor Dede Smith said she wanted the policy to allow property owners the opportunity to argue against the amount of impervious surface on their property. Currently, the city is using satellite data from 2009 to calculate impervious surface.
 
“I would propose they be able to meet with [Riddervold] and have some contact and if there’s a dispute, then they have to get an independent assessment,” Smith said.
 
“The bill is being calculated on known facts and so it seems very straightforward to give those known facts to a property owner that has a question,” Riddervold said.
 
Riddervold said the advisory task force will monitor the program in its first year to see how many disputes there are, but said she did not want to limit the amount of funding the water resources protection program would receive when it is implemented.
 
Councilor Dave Norris, an opponent of the program, said he also wanted the program to have many ways for people to lower their fee.
 
“There should be a bias from the outset for measures like tree planting and other green infrastructure to where our highest priority isn’t to necessarily make the most money on this, but to minimize runoff,” Norris said.
 
“The program was not developed to make money,” Riddervold said. “The program was developed to bring in adequate funding for the cost of the services.”
 
However, Norris said the water resources protection program is not his highest priority.
 
“This will represent a 270 percent increase in stormwater [funding] at a time when we’re looking at schools getting funding cuts and a lot of other needs that will be short-changed,” Norris said. 
 
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