By. Neil Williamson, President
In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous and beautiful creatures portrayed as femme fatales who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island.
The new Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is headed toward much the same fate as they consider establishing a new ‘Rain Tax’ Service District/Utility.
Please let me explain.
While there is little argument that the new regulations promulgated by Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will cost Albemarle approximately $1 Million per year for the next five years, there is a question of how to fund that cost. Two new taxing authorities are under consideration along with the General Fund. At first glance, each of these funding options seem to have benefits but a closer examination finds the direct and indirect impacts and hidden costs of such new taxing authorities are as dangerous to Albemarle’s economic well being as as the rocky island coast is to ships at sea.
Under the Stormwater Utility model, the utility calculates a parcel’s runoff impacts and assesses a fee. Generally this fee is $X per 1,000 square feet of impervious surface. The City of Charlottesville, 10 square miles in size, adopted this model last year. Such a model fails to recognize the runoff contribution of agricultural uses. The perceived benefit of this approach is the ability to incentivize stormwater mitigation. The reality is such mitigation is already strongly encouraged if not required for new development and relatively difficult to retrofit into existing development. In addition, the administration of such a stormwater utility, and its variances, credits, appeals would create a new administrative bureaucratic labyrinth for property owners to navigate.
Under the “Service District” model a geographic portion (or all) of the locality is identified as the service area and those properties in the service area pay the tax. The perceived benefit is as a dedicated tax it would not be subject to Albemarle County’s current policy of splitting new real estate tax revenue 60/40 with the school district. Such a benefit is disingenuous, it is merely a county policy that can be changed at anytime by a simple vote of the Board of Supervisors.
Most of the DEQ mandated stormwater improvements will be in the development areas. If Albemarle creates the service area to match the expenditure area, it will further discourage development in the development areas.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes that rain falls on everyone and that the required upgrades to Albemarle’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) benefit all county residents and should be funded as a part of the General Fund.
County Supervisors will be wise to redirect the good ship Albemarle away from staff’s desired separate taxing authority (AKA Siren’s song) and insist on total transparency regarding MS4 spending within the General Budget.
If instead, the supervisors fall under the Siren’s spell, the good ship will be headed directly toward the hidden dangers of over taxation, hyper regulation and an ever expanding staff.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
The Siren, Sir Edward John Poynter http://www.illusionsgallery.com/siren-poynter.html