By Chris Teale (File photo)
City staff’s proposed stormwater management fee received broad support Monday at a meeting of the environmental policy commission, and officials are confident a fully formed proposal will be provided to city council during its annual budget retreat next month.
Officials with the department of transportation and environmental services last month announced the possibility of a dedicated fee to fund the city’s stormwater management infrastructure and cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, mandated by the federal government and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
Under a preliminary fee structure provided by city staff, owners of a typical single family detached home would expect to pay around $10 to $12 a month, while townhouses would pay around $4 to $5. Those who own a home with more than 2,800 square feet can expect to pay between $18 and $20 a month. The fee is structured so if a property has more impervious surfaces that do not allow rainwater to pass through into the soil, it will pay more.
The fee is intended to replace the current half-cent per $100 of assessed value set-aside in the tax rate for stormwater management included in property tax bills, as well as additional money taken from the general fund each year. Stormwater management division chief Jessie Maines said at the meeting that in fiscal 2018, it is estimated that the equivalent of 1.2 cents per $100 of assessed value goes toward stormwater management from the general fund, on top of the half-cent set-aside.
City organizations like nonprofits, churches and private schools, which currently do not contribute funds to stormwater management from real estate tax would pay the fee, which also will include federal government properties like the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the National Science Foundation, which is slated to open next year.
Residents and businesses will be eligible to apply for credits from the city on the new fee, and details around those credits are beginning to be firmed up as staff develops the proposal.
Under a draft fee reduction and credit policy, those with impervious surfaces can install infrastructure — known as Best Management Practices — to help reduce stormwater flow and pollution load. The Environmental Protection Agency established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load in 2010, a daily budget for the amount of phosphorus, Nitrogen and sediment allowed to run off into the bay.
Best management practices can take a variety of forms, including rain barrels, green roofs and filters, among efforts. In addition, city staff proposes a menu of nonstructural options for best management practices, like adopting a stream, block or storm drain, and taking part in stream cleanups.
Bill Skrabak, deputy director for infrastructure and environment in the department of transportation and environmental services, said residential units could apply for up to 30 percent off their stormwater management fee under the draft plan. Nonresidential units like commercial properties, offices and apartment buildings could receive up to 45 percent off their fee under the draft plan.
Maines said the criteria for residents and businesses earning credits from their best management practices still are being finalized by staff. But there will need to be a process of documentation in place.
“There has to be something there,” he said. “There has to be a burden of proof. … We can’t just be giving away cred- its. There’s still stuff we have to pay for.”
“We don’t want it to be too burdensome, but a level of detail has to be provided there,” he continued.
The credit policy will arrive in two phases. The first phase will be immediate for non-residential units, and then approximately a year after it is implemented, residential units will be able to apply for credits too. Maines said this approach would allow staff to get the billing and administration on the right track before rolling out the next credit policy phase.
Commissioners praised the work of staff so far. Vice chairwoman Susan Gitlin said the proposal has “come a long way in a short period of time.” Chairman James Kapsis said the commission has been supportive of a stormwater management fee for some time, and said the equity of the fee structure is crucial to making it work.
“Today, the way in which we address stormwater pollution is we pay a tax,” he said. “The problem is we don’t all pay equally based on our contributions.”
Kapsis said early next year, the commission, in concert with staff, will begin the process of updating the city’s environmental action plan. The plan was adopted in 2009 and included a stormwater management fee, but city council decided to introduce the half-cent set-aside instead.
He said the commission will continue to advocate for green infrastructure, and to include a so-called “Eco-District” in the revamped North Old Town small area plan that will encourage further sustainable living.
After a number of community meetings with civic associations and other interested bodies like nonprofits and the chamber of commerce, staff expects to have a full framework to present to council at its annual budget retreat on November 5. If council approves the framework this fall and allows it to proceed, it will be included in the fiscal 2018 budget proposal, which will be unveiled early next year.