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Albemarle to hire consultant for stormwater payment strategy
by Sean Tubbs | Wednesday, April 02, 2014 at 10:21 p.m.

Albemarle County supervisors plan to hire a consultant to help the county determine how it will pay for additional stormwater management infrastructure required under more stringent state regulations.

The county has two separate but related stormwater mandates from the state to address.

One involves compliance with the Virginia Stormwater Management Program, which requires inspection of construction areas to ensure dirt is contained on site and does not pollute the watershed.

County spokeswoman Lee Catlin said staff is ready to move forward with a May public hearing on the ordinance for that program, which largely will involve increasing fees paid by developers and hiring more inspectors.

“The second one has to do with complying with new requirements under the county’s municipal separate stormwater system,” Catlin said.

However, Catlin said that process is just beginning.

The stricter regulations have been driven by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s mandate to Virginia to reduce the pollution reaching the Chesapeake Bay.

“This conversation is occurring in local governments around Virginia and other states,” said Doug Walker, the assistant county executive.

The county’s recommended budget for next fiscal year includes an additional seven-tenths of a cent on the tax rate to be dedicated to pay for new staff and potential infrastructure.

However, supervisors have said they want to explore other funding options because needs will continue to increase in order to meet state targets for pollution reduction.

The Charlottesville City Council voted last year to enact a stormwater utility fee to help pay for new infrastructure. The fee is based on the amount of impervious surface on a property owner’s land.

Potential funding mechanisms for the county’s stormwater management program include a utility fee, a service district that would be limited to a subset of the county or continuing to rely on the county’s general fund to pay for the program.

“It’s a more expansive effort that really involves the entire public and business owners in the mandated stormwater requirements and what would be the appropriate funding mechanism for those,” Catlin said.

Staff has recommended forming an advisory council to shepherd the preparation of the ordinance, including determining a funding mechanism. Charlottesville formed a similar committee to guide development of its stormwater utility fee

Catlin said the advisory committee’s final recommendation is expected no later than Oct. 30, 2015.

Staff recommended hiring a consultant for $40,000 to $60,000 to help guide development of the ordinance for a nine-month period.

Charlottesville hired AMEC Earth and Environmental to guide development of its stormwater utility fee.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said it was premature to hire a consultant because the county has yet to decide what approach to take.

“I’m very concerned about just hiring someone to do what our stakeholder group is supposed to do,” Mallek said. “We have to figure out whether we want to have an impact-based program or not and once you decide that, then you can think what else is going to happen.”

However, staff said they need assistance in working through the technical details they will present to the committee.

“I don’t think that a single local government has adopted any dedicated source of funding without the use of a consultant,” said Greg Harper, the county’s water resources manager.

“The key will be how narrowly we are able to focus the consultant’s work with the county on understanding the funding options,” Walker said. “If a decision is made to pursue a funding option, it may lead then to technical expertise to understand how it might be implemented.”

For instance, Walker said, if the county decided to implement a fee, officials also would need to figure out how to collect it.

“Other than our tax billing system, we don’t have a utility billing system,” Walker said.

Staff will develop a request for proposals for a consultant. Supervisors will vote on that document at a future meeting.

The goal is to have a funding mechanism in place for fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1, 2016.
 

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