The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has reaffirmed its support for levying a stormwater utility fee to pay for an enhanced 10-year program to protect the county’s water resources.
However a vote to actually implement the fee will not happen until at least early 2018 as staff members determine the specifics of how the additional revenue would be used.
“We’ve gone down the pathway towards the establishment of a utility only part of the way,” said Greg Harper, the county’s water resources manager. “We would need to refine some of these cost estimates.”
Albemarle has spent several years considering how to raise additional revenue to pay for infrastructure to meet state and federal mandates to reduce pollution that reaches the Chesapeake Bay, as well as how to achieve additional water protection goals called for in its Comprehensive Plan.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality must issue a permit to localities to discharge stormwater runoff that originates from impervious surfaces such as rooftops and roads.
In recent years, municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit holders have had to demonstrate they have plans to decrease the amount of sediment and other pollutants that enter the Chesapeake Bay.
Charlottesville adopted a stormwater utility fee in 2013 to help cover capital costs to maintain its existing network of stormwater pipes and to pay for replacements.
Albemarle has been slower to implement a fee, but the Board of Supervisors did decide in 2014 to dedicate 0.7 cents of the real estate property tax rate toward the water resources management program.
That translates to about $1.15 million in dedicated funding in the current fiscal year, but that is not enough to cover the full $1.8 million for the program.
“It doesn’t pay for all of the engineers in community development that review developers’ plans for stormwater management,” Harper said. “It doesn’t cover the cost of our grounds personnel to maintain [stormwater infrastructure] on county properties, including school properties.”
Nor, he said, is the existing funding enough to cover an enhanced water resources protection program that supervisors have previously endorsed.
However, the estimated cost of that enhanced program is lower than had been projected the last time Harper presented it to the board in October.
The DEQ has given Albemarle credit for pollution reduction work that has already been achieved.
As a result, the estimated cost to reduce Chesapeake Bay pollution has been reduced from $2.5 million a year to $500,000 a year.
However, the water resources program also contains programs to maintain the “gray” infrastructure of stormwater pipes.
Harper estimates the first year of the enhanced program would now cost $2.5 million and rise to $5 million in the 10th year. That’s down from a projected $4.2 million and $6.8 million, respectively.
A stakeholder committee met for a year to review a possible fee for Albemarle.
“There was very strong consensus of the committee to recommend this higher level of program implementation,” Harper said. “The other major recommendation is for the county to pursue the establishment of a stormwater utility. This decision was more split with a narrow majority supporting the utility.”
Harper said the recommendation is one single rate that would be paid by properties all across the county. The fee would be based on the amount of impervious surface per 500 square feet.
“All residents would derive benefit from the program, and it’s often unclear between urban areas and rural areas,” Harper said. “There are urban-type land uses in the rural area and vice versa, so the committee did not believe there was a clear enough distinction between urban and rural areas to have a different rate for those different areas.”
Harper said further work on creating the utility fee will take up to 18 months. For instance, Harper said, the extent of replacing county-owned stormwater pipes is not yet known.
“We are mapping all the infrastructure in the county, and we estimate that we’re about 40 percent done,” Harper said.
Supervisors voted unanimously to direct Harper to proceed.
The next action step for the board would be work sessions in early 2018, followed by adoption of the ordinance and the rate structure. Until then, there will be more briefings.
“This is a process that we will be going through that will involve research,” deputy county executive Bill Letteri said. “There will be findings. We’ll be bringing those back to the board for discussion.”
Supervisor Rick Randolph said the issue came up when he was running for office last year.
“This was very much a hot topic in the Scottsville District,” Randolph said. “The county needs a fee to cover these costs. That’s inescapable. It cannot be covered under the current budget.”