The Albemarle Board of Supervisors is keeping three options on the table to pay for a state mandate to expand the scope of its water resources protection program.
The county is expected to increase spending on the program from $414,000 in the next fiscal year to $1.23 million in 2019 to comply with changes to the Virginia Stormwater Management Program.
“The county will have additional responsibilities for monitoring and reporting compliance,” said Greg Kamptner, deputy county attorney.
The additional money will pay for inspectors and reviewers to look over blueprints for how development projects will mitigate the velocity of stormwater created after undeveloped land is disturbed.
Work performed by the new staff members also will allow the county to qualify for a new Department of Environmental Quality permit to discharge stormwater into the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The permit is a separate but related mandate driven by the state’s need to comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirement to reduce pollution that reaches the waterway.
Funding options include increasing the tax rate and dedicating the additional revenue to the program; creating a service district where residents and businesses would pay a separate tax; and a stormwater utility fee similar to one Charlottesville enacted last year.
Under the fee, property owners would pay based on the amount of impervious surface on their property.
Staff’s recommendation is to initiate a service district where a separate tax would be levied based on property value. That would be easier to set up, according to County Executive Thomas L. Foley.
“The complications of setting up a utility are such that we don’t think we can get a utility in place by the next fiscal year,” Foley said.
Supervisor Brad Sheffield said he favors the stormwater utility fee because it would incentivize development that produces less impervious surface.
“We’re encouraging development to go up, which could mean that property value could be higher but its runoff may be minimal,” Sheffield said. “Someone who has a smaller footprint will have less runoff, but that doesn’t mean they have smaller home values.”
Supervisors asked for a roundtable with developers and other stakeholders to be held before they make a decision on how to proceed.
“I would prefer not to take any of the options off the table before we’ve gotten roundtable feedback from the public,” said Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd.
However, staff said there had to be some additional funding beginning July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
“If you’re going to go with the general fund, it’s going to have to be adopted as part of the budget and be reflected in the tax rate you set in April,” county attorney Larry Davis said. “If you do a service district, the budget is going to be based on adopting it prior to July 1 so the first billing would be in December.”
The county currently has three and a half inspector positions, but will increase that to five next fiscal year to accommodate the need to conduct more on-site reviews to comply with the new regulations. An additional engineer also will need to be hired to review plans before they are approved.
Furthermore, at least two more additional staff members will need to be hired in the next few years.
“We’re trying to phase in staff as we anticipate we’re going to need them,” said Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development.
Additionally, Albemarle needs to adopt a new water protection ordinance to reflect new requirements mandated under the Virginia Stormwater Management Program.
The county is required to submit a draft of an amended ordinance to the DEQ by Wednesday. A public hearing on the new ordinance must be held by May 15 and new regulations must be in place by July 1.
However, the General Assembly could delay these deadlines. At least two bills have been filed to allow counties one more year to pass an ordinance, including one by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon.
Neil Williamson, of the Free Enterprise Forum, said during a public comment period at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting that he was alarmed at the increase in land disturbance fees that developers would pay under the amended ordinance. This would be in addition to whatever ongoing fees or taxes they would pay to comply with the stormwater permit.
“A number of people are feeling as though they’re going to be hit twice,” Williamson said. “They’re putting in the best possible water protection elements.”
State law also will require that 28 percent of fees paid by developers would go straight to the DEQ to help the agency cover the cost of its own review.