By. Neil Williamson, President
First the good news, on Wednesday evening (6/24), Albemarle County wants your input regarding local funding sources for millions of dollars of state mandated water resource protection measures (Yes, that’s the good news).
The bad news is that absent significant public input to the contrary, a committee in Albemarle County seems to be headed over the falls toward a rain tax (AKA Stormwater fee) AND an expansion of government to properly implement the fee as well as annually evaluate, inspect, and regulate related credits.
From the “A-Mail”:
Over the past few years, new and expanded State mandates have significantly increased the scope and cost of the County’s water resource protection programs. The Board of Supervisors has indicated a desire to explore establishing a dedicated funding mechanism – separate from the general fund – to better support these programs. The Board will consider the funding mechanisms at a work session scheduled in the fall of 2015 Emphasis added-nw
The County staff has prepared a lovely video outlining the new unfunded mandates (they do not refer to them as such) as well as two of the three options currently under consideration: stormwater utility fee and a service District:
Reading past the soft shoe dance – Albemarle wants/is being pushed into spending millions of dollars on water resource infrastructure and they are looking for a way to pay for it outside of raising property taxes. While the net result to the landowner is the same, calling the tax a fee opens up several new concepts for consideration including generating revenue from nonprofits (that do not pay property taxes) and reduction of fees based on objective, verifiable credits.
Flawed thinking. In general we are in favor of user fees when the proper users can be identified. The concept of credits is based on the idea if you are contributing less to the stormwater issue you should pay less. In this instance this concept doesn’t hold water (pun intended) as the childless couple across the street pay the same property taxes as their neighbor with five children in the school system. If the goal is for the community good, the entire community should pay for it.
You have to applaud Albemarle staff’s outreach – they even have a survey to help you determine how they should prioritize spending the money landowners will be forced to send them (regardless of methodology):
Weigh in on the water resources program now! The Board of Supervisors is soliciting feedback on community support for new programs and projects. Take the survey – your feedback is critical
The Free Enterprise Forum is opposed to the creation of the Water Resources Fiefdom where landowners must petition for credits and those credits must be verified by regular on site inspections. No, as we wrote when the Board first posed this concept [Albemarle Hears the Siren’s Song of New Rain Taxing Authority], we believe the transparency of the general fund is a better place for this expenditure. In addition, a lack of dedicated funding stream would mandate these projects regularly compete with other county capital infrastructure priorities including schools, fire stations and libraries.
The City of Charlottesville enacted such a policy in 2013, over our objection. The difference is the City is 10 square miles with the vast majority impervious surface. The tools available to Albemarle’s 726 square miles are more limited due to the wide variety of land uses and legislative controls regarding the impact to agricultural operations.
Serendipitous meeting scheduling places this important water resources outreach effort potentially in conflict with the penultimate University of Virginia College World Series game.
Albemarle is asking the right questions, will citizens step up and engage?
Or will we end up the creek?
Only time will tell.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a 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
Photo Credits: www.Createacomic.com, Albemarle County, NCAA