Tag Archives: rain tax

The Need for an Albemarle Rain Tax Vote

An open letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

Dear Supervisors,

PrintAfter significant public discussion, tomorrow the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be discussing the future of the proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA Rain Tax).

Your staff has done an exemplary job bringing this option this far. This was time well spent and needed for the community to understand the stormwater needs and costs. The Free Enterprise Forum applauds staff’s accessibility and clarity in their public interactions and documentation.

With all due respect, the Free Enterprise Forum calls on the supervisors to do two simple things as a part of that discussion:

  1. Make a recorded vote up or down
  2. Vote NO on the Rain Tax.

As you know, The Free Enterprise Forum has been opposed to the Rain Tax concept  since it was first discussed.  We are asking you to put your vote on the record to counter the vote of September 2016 when your body endorsed a one vote majority committee position to move forward with the Rain Tax.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you have heard the hundreds of citizens who have attended town halls, telephoned or e-mailed their very real concerns with the inequity in the proposal.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because the community has expressed support for the important stormwater projects but not for this top-heavy funding mechanism.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because as proposed $1.2 million dollars annually would go toward “enforcement/regulation and administration”.  These funds could be better spent on significant community needs, including stormwater infrastructure improvements.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because GIS mapping is structurally flawed as it is based on the hand drawn tax maps rather than recorded plats. The results include buildings being placed on the wrong parcels. One local surveyor estimated 25% of all GIS mapping has some errors (many undercounting buildings).

Vote No on the Rain Tax because projects developed in the last decade include significant stormwater mitigation, resulting in better stormwater quality (and velocity) than the predevelopment condition. These mitigation practices are expensive, to then asses a fee to these property owners would be effective double taxation.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because 95% of Albemarle is rural and many of these tax payers will see no “utility” from the proposed Rain Tax

Vote No on the Rain Tax because of the “over 20 localities” who have enacted such a measure only 3 are counties, none of which has the same demographic or geographic considerations as Albemarle.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because stormwater is a community good not a utility. It rains on everyone and the environmental stewardship is everyone’s responsibility. Just as you would not consider a user fee for Public Safety or Schools, the community is better funding stormwater through the general fund.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you can. Albemarle County is not mandated to enact a Stormwater Utility Fee. While staff has suggested regulators may prefer a fee funding formula, that is NOT a mandate.

Finally, Vote NO on the Rain Tax because it is the right thing to do.  Let’s use this positive community energy surrounding this issue to improve stormwater via the general fund.

As always, thank you for your service to our community.

Respectfully,

Neil Williamson, President

 

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Albemarle Rain Tax Answers (Part V)– The Christopher Columbus Map Award

By. Neil Williamson, President

PrintIn preparation for an April 11th work session, Albemarle County has released a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) regarding their proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA RAIN TAX).  Generally, we support good information getting out to the public on such an important issue.  Unfortunately there was some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the fifth in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question: What is a GIS and how does the County collect the GIS data used to calculate utility fees?

Albemarle’s answer:

GIS stands for Geographic Information System. It is computer software designed to capture, store, analyze, and present spatial or geographic data. The County has used a GIS for decades to improve operations such as capital planning, emergency response, and development tracking.

Various data has been developed since the late 1990s for a variety of purposes. New data is obtained as land is subdivided and improvements are constructed. For instance, County staff will map the corners of new buildings – during the permitting process – using a highly accurate (sub-meter) GPS device. Older data was originally mapped by County staff and consultants from Mylar tax maps and aerial photography. The County does not rely on automated or computerized processes to map impervious areas. Once buildings, parking lots, and other features are mapped, they are generally not re-mapped unless a permitting process proposing new development is initiated on the property. However, County staff will occasionally compare mapped features to new aerial photography to identify missed features.

The Free Enterprise Forum is the first to acknowledge the power of GIS.  We utilized GIS technologies to calculate our Hindsight Report as well as our Workplace 29 ReportThose reports used GIS to aggregate data rather than provide specific parcel information.  When you drill down on Albemarle County’s GIS to the parcel level you find all kinds of issues – especially if you try to use it to calculate impervious surface.

Incorrect boundary lines If you pull the GIS imagery for Tax Map 14-18 in Southern Albemarle, as an owner you would think that looks like the proper lot lines but when you overlay a physical survey completed for the property you find the GIS map is wrong in material ways.  See the combined image below:

RR Exhibit B

As a reminder, Albemarle’s proposed rain tax calculation will include all rooftops and any impervious surfaces (including gravel) within a 100’ radius of the building.

According to the GIS (blue line), Tax Map 14-18 has a large building on the east side of the parcel.  The physical survey (black line)recognizes not only iron buried but a fence along the property line that places the building (and the related impervious surface) on the neighbor’s property.

On the left side of the map the circle around the northwest out building is not fully captured due to the misplaced property line.The GIS lines are misaligned resulting in a miscalculation of the Rain Tax.

In a different example, also in Southern Albemarle (Exhibit A) Albemarle County’s GIS boundary lines for Tax Map 19-42A both over and undercount the impervious surface radii when compared with the maps available in the courthouse (DB 777 P.359)RR Exhibit A

The County GIS lines (blue) show a boundary that is shorter and wider than the legal data (Red lines) provide.

The resultant Rain Tax Calculation fails to capture the full radii in the southwest corner and over calculates the impervious surface on the north boundary of the property.

Based on this documentation – these two errors may almost cancel each other out – but they are incorrect.

rr gis According to the GIS for Tax map 132-14, three buildings exist on this parcel that are connected by gravel drives.  A drone review shows that there are four 4 buildings on the parcel.

The fourth building (identified as Shed #2) was constructed in 2008 but (as of December 2017) does not appear on the GIS.  As important that the building is not captured in the calculation neither is the 100’ radii.

RR Drone 2Shed #2 represents 1370 sq feet of impervious surface that would not be counted using GIS because according to GIS the shed does not exist.  In addition the gravel surrounding the shed would also not be counted utilizing current GIS data.

Some might suggest these are cherry picked examples and not representative of the County as a whole.  The Free Enterprise Forum has learned of 7 errors within a 5 square mile quadrant of Albemarle County.  We also believe that such errors while existing within the urban ring are likely not as prevalent with more recent developments that utilized global position survey techniques.

One local surveyor estimated that 25% of all parcels in the county would have some form of inaccuracy in their GIS data.  To be clear, not all of the errors are in favor of the landowner, some are to the benefit of the county – no matter – a 25% error rate for data driving the RAIN TAX is unacceptable.

This may be the most erroneous use of mapping software since since Christopher Columbus charted his first voyage to Asia.

We reiterate our call for Albemarle Supervisors to say “NO” to the RAIN TAX AKA Stormwater Utility Fee because it is based bad maps create bad results.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

 

 

 

Albemarle Rain Tax Answers (Part IV)–If three of your friends jumped off a bridge …

By. Neil Williamson, President

PrintIn preparation for an April 11th work session, Albemarle County has released a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) regarding their proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA RAIN TAX).  Generally, we support good information getting out to the public on such an important issue.  Unfortunately there was some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the third in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question: Do other localities use a stormwater utility to fund stormwater programs?

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

Yes. Stormwater utilities were first established in the US in the early 1970s and in Virginia in the early 1990s. There are currently nearly 1,600 stormwater utilities in the US (source: Western Kentucky University Stormwater Utility Survey, 2016). Over 20 Virginia local governments have established stormwater utilities, including Prince William County, Isle of Wight County, Chesterfield County, and the cities of Charlottesville, Richmond, and Waynesboro.

The Free Enterprise Forum would answer the question differently.  While over 20 localities have adopted a stormwater utility fee, most are cities.  We are only aware of three other counties in the Commonwealth who utilize a stormwater utility fee.  Each locality approaches the issue slightly differently.  Let’s look at the three counties and their different approaches to stormwater fee.

Isle of Wright County Virginia is located in the Hampton Roads region directly across the James River from Newport News.  As of the 2010 census, the population was 35,270. Its area: is 363 square miles. In their implementation of the stormwater utility fee they chose to  use a flat fee for all residential property and calculate the impervious surface for businesses and non residential.  From Isle of Wright website:

How Much is The Stormwater Management fee and When is it Due?   All developed residential property owners will be assessed a fee of $54 per year.  The storm water management fee will be added as a separate line item on real estate tax bills.

How will businesses and other nonresidential properties be charged? Businesses and other nonresidential properties will be charged the Stormwater Management Fee based on the ratio of impervious area on site to the impervious area of 1 ERU.  For example a nonresidential property that has 32,000 SF of impervious area would be accessed an ERU of 10 which equates to a yearly Stormwater Management Fee of $540.00.

Prince William County, Virginia is located directly on the Potomac River South of Washington, DC.  On 1 July 2015, the population was estimated to be 451,721, making it Virginia’s second-most populous county. Their geographic footprint is 348 square miles. Prince William also bills a flat fee for residential and looks for agricultural users to develop water quality plans and resource conservation plans in order to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.  Prince William’s website explains:

  • Residential and nonresidential owners of developed property pay based on the amount of impervious area (rooftops paved areas etc.) on their property. Impervious areas contribute to an increase in storm water runoff that adds to our drainage requirements for flood control and water protection.
  • Residents will pay their fee on the bi-annual real estate bill.  This means the total annual fee is split between the two bills.
    • $39.36 total annual fee for detached singe-family homes
    • $29.55 total annual fee for townhome, mobile home and condominium owners
  • Nonresidential property owners will pay a total annual fee of $19.12 per 1000 square feet of impervious area. Fee adjustments or credits may be available if a storm water management system is already in place. This fee is billed on the bi-annual real estate bills.
  • Owners of agricultural croplands and undeveloped properties are not charged a fee. Agricultural properties are currently required to develop water quality plans and resource conservation plans in order to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and the Farm Bill.

Chesterfield County, Virginia is located just south of Richmond.  The county is bordered on the North by the James River and on the South by the Appomattox River. In 2016, the estimated population was 339,009 in their area of 437 Square miles.  Chesterfield also chose to implement a flat fee for residential properties.  Chesterfield outlines its fee on their website:

How much will I pay (fee rates)?
  • Residential property owners pay $25 per year (one ERU) for single family detached homes.
  • Townhome and condominium owners pay $7.50 per year (30% of one ERU).
  • Commercial properties (e.g., nonresidential and rental multifamily properties) are charged based on the total amount of impervious area on the site and the resulting ERUs, at a rate of $25 per ERU per year.
  • Commercial properties that drain to stormwater management facilities or participate in pollution reduction programs receive a partial credit in the stormwater utility fee as outlined in the credit policy.
  • Exempt properties include
    • Federal, state, local and public entities that hold a permit to discharge stormwater
    • Undeveloped properties

The truth in fee award goes to Chesterfield County who called out that they are charging property owners for a service that they do not receive (see our post about “utility”)

I live in a subdivision with stormwater BMPs and drainage infrastructure. Why do I have to pay the stormwater utility fee?

Neighborhoods with existing stormwater conveyance and retention or detention ponds still contribute runoff and pollution to the overall drainage system. The program’s costs are distributed to all county property owners because stormwater management is a countywide service.

Beyond the recognition that development today handles the vast majority of stormwater on-site – This is the crux of the Fee/Tax discussion.  If as Chesterfield states, stormwater management is a countywide service and “program costs are distributed to all county property owners” – it is independent of the property’s direct impact on stormwater – it is a tax.

PrintThe reality we see is only three counties in Virginia have enacted this “fee”.  We are not convinced these are “peer communities” based on their different geographic conditions and population densities.

I can hear my Mother’s voice as I type, I don’t care what the other counties are doing, it is not right for you.

The Rain Tax is Wrong for Albemarle.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Albemarle’s Rain Tax Answers (Part III)– Utility?

By. Neil Williamson, President

PrintIn preparation for an April 11th work session, Albemarle County has released a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) regarding their proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA RAIN TAX).  Generally, we support good information getting out to the public on such an important issue.  Unfortunately there was some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the third in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question: What is a stormwater utility?

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

Utilities are funding mechanisms that charge a fee for services provided. A stormwater utility supports stormwater management and other programs related to water resource protection. While property taxes are based on the value of the property, a stormwater fee must be related to each property’s contribution to the problems being address by the programs, namely through discharges of stormwater runoff and pollution. Fees are typically based on property characteristics having a strong relation to runoff and pollutants, such as impervious area. A utility is not a tax and revenues generated from fees must only be used to support water resources programs. (emphasis added-nw)

While Albemarle’s definition of utility seems entirely reasonable, it also does not accurately describe the proposed rain tax.  Examining the image below, I can see the paved and gravel grace episcopalareas around the church that would create runoff, however from this perspective I anticipate the majority of the stormwater would be absorbed long before it reached a stormwater conveyance or even a stream – what utility is being provided?

Even if one of the few green infrastructure/open channel maintenance projects (8% of the FY19 program budget) is being completed in the area – the direct utility is extremely limited.  pepe-le-pew-warner-brothers

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is a rain tax, collected from all property owners (including churches) to pay for a community good – stormwater infrastructure.

We agree the proposed rain tax does create revenues that are restricted to only support water resources programs.  We don’t think this an unchecked dedicated revenue source is a good idea but we agree this is what is planned.

Calling the proposed rain tax a stormwater utility fee does not make it any less offensive than calling a skunk a cat.

Call it what it is a rain tax and yes it stinks.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits: Google (accessed 3/20/18), Warner Brothers/Loony Tunes

Albemarle Answers Rain Tax Questions (Part II)

By. Neil Williamson, President

PrintIn preparation for an April 11th work session, Albemarle County has released a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) regarding their proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA RAIN TAX).  Generally, we support good information getting out to the public on such an important issue.  Unfortunately there was some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the second in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question ‘Why has a stormwater utility been recommended as the funding mechanism?’

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

A stormwater utility has the following advantages:

· Fairness – A utility fee based on a property’s impervious area more closely relates to the demand a property places on the stormwater system and on water resource protection efforts than its real estate property value. For that reason, a utility is considered a fairer way to allocate total program costs to individual properties.

· Stability – A utility will result in a dependable and steady revenue stream that grows with the community; this stability will allow for long-term program development and planning for capital investments.

· Regulatory preference – A dedicated funding source is preferred by federal and state regulators and would create advantages for the County when being audited or applying for grants.

· Wider funding base – Government- and tax-exempt- properties – charged under a utility but not charged taxes – contribute to the stormwater and pollution burden.

So we have four advantages to unpack: Fairness, Stability, Regulatory Preference and a wider funding base.

Fairness is a bit difficult to measure but let’s fist look at the current funding mchanism.  Today, all county taxpayers contribute $.007 of the property tax rate is dedicated to stormwater.

This cost allocation system is the same for schools, public safety, and most other government functions.  Suggesting a user fee is a very different concept.  Imagine if this was how we funded schools, the couple across the street do not have any children, why should they pay for schools?

Is the current funding mechanism ‘fair’?

Albemarle’s FAQs suggest that the proposed rain tax impervious surface calculation more closely relates to the demands placed on the system is a challenge as well.  Nothing in the calculation considers property context.

Consider the Google maps captures below:

White hall google map sugar hollow rdRolkin Road Google maps

The capture on the left is in the White Hall District in Sugar Hollow surrounded by forested lands, the photo on the right is Rolkin Road on Pantops, ignoring the variation in the amount of impervious surface in each photo, does using the same billing unit for these two instances the same make logical sense?   Which photo has more impact on Albemarle County’s stormwater infrastructure?  The home in the rural countryside or the urban ring townhouse?

Albemarle County FAQs indicate the proposed rain tax will result in a steady revenue stream that grows with the community.  The only thing stopping this from happening under the existing funding system is political will of 4 supervisors (the number needed for action).  Such political will has existed in recent years, evidenced by the $.007 dedicated to storm water in the current budget.

Albemarle FAQs suggest the proposed rain tax was selected because of a “Regulatory Preference” and that the proposed rain tax will ‘create advantages when audited or applying for grants’.  The Free Enterprise Forum wishes to be perfectly clear – the proposed rain tax is NOT mandated by any governmental agency.  Among regulators some preference may exist but the regulation relates to the projects not how the projects are funded. Albemarle can say “no” to the proposed rain tax and have a very successful stormwater program.

The last bullet ‘wider funding base’ is perhaps the most jarring. Government and tax exempt properties may be charged under the proposed rain tax but not charged taxes.  This means Albemarle County will have to pay the proposed rain tax on all of their properties (including schools), these funds will come out of the general fund creating a need for more tax dollars to pay for those costs.

In addition, rural churches, often with impervious gravel parking lots will need to spend hundreds of dollars annually either through higher contributions or by cutting ministries in the community.

PrintThe proposed rain tax is not a fair allocation of costs as it does not consider parcel context in its calculations.  Stormwater management is not a utility it is a public service.  The costs should be shared via the general fund not the proposed rain tax.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credits: Google (accessed 3/19/18)

 

 

 

 

 

Albemarle’s RAIN TAX Bureaucracy

By. Neil Williamson, President

PrintIn preparation for an April 11th work session, Albemarle County has released a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) regarding their proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA RAIN TAX).  Generally, we support good information getting out to the public on such an important issue.  Unfortunately there were some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the first in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question ‘Will the stormwater utility result in the creation of a new bureaucracy?’ 

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

A stormwater utility will not result in the creation of a separate organization or a new County department. Revenues from the utility will be used to support existing staff and mandated programs related to stormwater management and water resource protection, as well as some program enhancements to better achieve County needs and goals [link to below “New Programs”]. Administration of the utility is expected to require the equivalent of about one-half additional staff. [Emphasis added-nw]

To be fair, like a good politician, Albemarle did not answer the yes/no question posed.  Perhaps we have a different definition of bureaucracy.  Merriam-Webster defines it as follows:

image

In the answer above,  Albemarle references the revenues will be used to “support existing staff”; true but not complete.  The program budget projects staff INCREASES from the current  ~16.5 Full Time Equivalents (FTE) to 23.4 staff in FY28 (nearly a 42% increase).  But note there is not a new department.

Albemarle’s Stormwater Utility Program’s 10 year budget is $52 Million dollars But note there is no new department.

The program budget approved by the Board of Supervisors included two line items that we think of as bureaucratic (absent the fee they are not needed):  Program Management/Administration and Regulation and Enforcement.

Albemarle County’s program budget (chart below) shows that roughly 1/3 of every dollar generated by the RAIN TAX foes to these two line items.  That between $1.2 – $2 million dollars annually.   The Free Enterprise Forum contends absent this funding mechanism, those funds could be used for stormwater infrastructure if they were not being spent on administration and enforcement.

2018-03-15 14_00_44-Rain Tax Figures - Excel

Let’s the question for the class; ‘Will the stormwater utility result in the creation of a new bureaucracy?’

PrintYES!  The Free Enterprise Forum believes the RAIN TAX will create a new bureaucracy (but not a new department).  The storm water mitigation credits allowed by the RAIN TAX will need to be verified at installation and regularly inspected to ensure proper compliance.  In addition, the mapping services required to make parcel corrections and other adjustments will be most significant in the first five years.  While we can understand some considering this work a part of the stormwater protection, we contend this specific, bureaucratic work would not be required if this funding mechanism was not used.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, “A bureaucracy by any other name would smell as sweet”

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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

Albemarle’s $52 Million Rain Tax Department

By. Neil Williamson, President

rain gifFarmers count on rain to feed their crops; Albemarle County is counting on the Rain Tax (AKA Storm water “fee”) to grow government by over Twenty new full time employees and a 10 year budget that exceeds $52 million. [corrected 12/5 9:44]

Please let me explain.

In 2013, Albemarle County thought it needed a Rain Tax (a fee paid by all land owners based on the percentage of impervious surface) in order to meet state mandated Chesapeake Bay regulations for pollutants.

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. Albemarle’s Water Resources Program Manager, Greg Harper 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].

When it was determined that Albemarle was well on its way to meeting those requirements, the Free Enterprise Forum wrongfully thought this would be the end of the discussion of a rain tax [see Singing in the Rain].

Instead, gifted with this “fee” authority from the General Assembly, Albemarle tasked staff to come up with a plan to spend the money to address the county’s greying stormwater infrastructure – .

image

Make no mistake this is the beginning of an Albemarle County Public Works Department with Twenty new full time employees  (corrected 12/5 9:44 am) and an annual budget of roughly $5 million absent any check on its further expansion based on a dedicated revenue source

While the Free Enterprise Forum is not questioning the need for many of these infrastructure improvements, we believe these projects should compete with other capital projects in the biannual Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).  Such project competition breeds efficiency and promotes transparency just as a dedicated revenue source reduces sunlight, breeds complacency and presents the opportunity for mismanagement and malfeasance.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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: giphy.com, Albemarle County

Singing In The Rain! Albemarle Rain Tax Going Away!

By. Neil Williamson, President

The Free Enterprise Forum has long expressed concerns regarding the Singing in the Rain1stormwater 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:

Water Resources Video

Well, Nevermind.

 

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.

singing in the rain broadwayDuring the busy stressful  budget season, it is nice to have a reason to smile and enjoy the inevitable spring showers.

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.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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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  

Albemarle Hears the Siren’s Song of New Rain Taxing Authority

By. Neil Williamson, President

SirenIn 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 shipwreck1MS4 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.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson 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

Photo Credits:

The Siren, Sir Edward John Poynter http://www.illusionsgallery.com/siren-poynter.html

Anna Maria Shipwreck Antique Postcard – Stormy Ocean Scene with Woman Distressed over Old Boat Wrecked on Ocean Rocks www.etsy.com