By. Neil Williamson, President
The Free Enterprise Forum has long expressed concerns regarding the stormwater fee AKA “Rain Tax”. But now we have reason to join Gene Kelly and be “Singing in the Rain”.
Please let me explain.
Across all localities, we have steadfastly supported funding stormwater programs through the general fund [Albemarle Hears the Siren’s Song of New Rain Taxing Authority]
Since 2013, in both Albemarle and Charlottesville a great deal of educational effort was made to gain an understanding of the import of Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and a divisive community conversation regarding who was responsible for water “pollutants” and who would pay was pitting farmers against development area residents.
The Albemarle County staff even 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:
In a March 4, 2016 e-mail to the Stormwater Advisory Committee, Water Resources Program Manager, Greg Harper wrote:
You should be aware that staff will be making the following recommendations to the Board:
· accept the 10-year Program Plan as recommended by the Advisory Committee
· defer moving forward with developing and implementing a dedicated funding mechanism [emphasis added – nw]
What the email revealed, and some thought all along, – Albemarle (and likely Charlottesville) are much better off on the mandated stormwater requirements than originally thought.
In late 2014, staff projected the costs to be nearly $2.5 Million a year. During the preparation of Albemarle County’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL Action Plan they found they would receive credits for the many stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) – both private and public – that were already built. Harper explains:
While the County is required to achieve 5% of its long-term required pollutant reductions by July 1, 2018, the current status of reductions is as follows:
pollutant reductions achieved as percent of total, long-term requirement phosphorus 68% nitrogen 99% sediment 137%
All (100%) reductions must be achieved by 2028. As you can see, we are theoretically complete with required nitrogen and sediment reductions and two-thirds complete with phosphorus reductions. [emphasis added-nw].
Wait a minute, where is the parade?
Albemarle has already met the 2028 pollutant reduction goal for 2 out of 3 pollutants!
Why wasn’t there at least a media release trumpeting the good stewardship of Albemarle landowners?
Sure there is still important work to do on the phosphorous levels but the cost for this work is SIGNIFICANTLY ($2,000,000 annually) less than the original TMDL program. Harper explains:
While we will continue to proactively achieve pollutant reductions through our capital program (in fact, we just received a DEQ SLAF to support a stream restoration project), the need to instantly and dramatically expand the program has greatly diminished. We’ve revised the estimated cost to implement the TMDL program as $500,000 per year, recognizing that this may change in the future. The lower total program cost makes it more difficult to justify investing in a discrete, dedicated funding mechanism at this time.
The Free Enterprise Forum wonders how Charlottesville, with their existing stormwater fee, is doing on their plan’s objectives and if soon citizens might be looking for City Hall to repeal Charlottesville’s Rain Tax.
Keep your eyes to the skies.
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: MGM Studios, Albemarle County, behindthefootlights.blogspot.com