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Votes

Stormwater Utility Fee Possible

Supervisors move to counter impact of stormwater runoff.

Stormwater runoff has more adverse impact on the Little Hunting Creek Watershed, the Potomac River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay than any major or minor flood, officials have determined. Monday July 26, the Board of Supervisors took a step to do something about it.

With the adoption of a Board Matter brought forth by Mason District Supervisor Penelope A. "Penny" Gross, the board "authorized the appointment of a stakeholder-based Stormwater Advisory Committee to provide community feedback and dialogue." It is the first step in possibly establishing a Stormwater Management Utility Fee program.

"This Board Matter came from discussions concerning long-term funding solutions for county stormwater management programs at the July 19 joint meeting of the Board's Environmental and Development Process committees," Gross said. "In particular, that discussion included a presentation on the implementation of a stormwater utility fee as a possible financing option."

Included in the July 19 recommendations of staff and the committees was a list of potential groups to serve on the Stormwater Advisory Committee. They included representatives of:

* Large and small/medium commercial/office properties

* Apartment/condo properties

* Homeowner Associations

* Chambers of Commerce

* League of Women Voters

* Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations

* Environmental Quality Advisory Council

* Small Business Commission

* Northern Virginia Building Industry Association

* Interfaith Community

* Non-Profit Coalition

* Watershed Organization

* At-large members with specific expertise or interest

"IT IS ALSO RECOMMENDED that the Board of Supervisors request the participation of additional groups as technical members," the report said. Among those suggested were: Fairfax County Water Authority, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District and Fairfax County Public Schools.

"We have to come up with something that is fair for all those who live and work in Fairfax County. There are a number of ways of doing that. In fact Prince William County and Virginia Beach, both of which have stormwater fees, each do it differently," Gross said.

"We obviously have an interest in this problem in the southwestern part of the county because everything that drains into Mount Vernon District eventually drains back into Lee District. It's called the reverse Potomac effect," Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman, said.

"The whole water quality issue looms very large. But, how do you do the right thing with the present financial restraints? These watershed studies are coming in at about $1 million each," he said. Fairfax County has 30 watersheds.

THE COMPOSITION of the potential representatives on the proposed Stormwater Advisory Committee struck James Davis, chairman, Mount Vernon Council Environmental and Recreation Committee, as "somewhat business heavy." It will not be based on district representation as with many other county advisory groups.

"Businesses have the most impervious surfaces with their parking areas. This is particularly true of large sites such as shopping centers. The whole idea behind a fee is to get an equitable share between homeowners and businesses," Davis said.

As an example, Davis cited all the development planned or underway in Mount Vernon District. "The county has not geared up for maximum build-out. This is going to have a direct effect on those that want to build-out to the maximum extent permitted in their zone," he said.

"But, the potential fee for stormwater management is not as bad as many imagine. As an example, in North Carolina where the fee is part of the homeowners trash and water charges it averages about $50 per year per residence," Davis said.

The fee rate is based on the amount of impervious surface to the overall lot size, according to Davis. "If we can slow down the flow of water into the streams we can change a lot of the factors impacting the watershed," he said.

During a recent meeting of his committee, stormwater management and the possible creation of such a fee was discussed. The greatest challenge is to control water runoff into the streams caused by excess paving due to urbanization, according to the committee.

"FORTY EIGHT PERCENT of the flow into the streams is from residential properties," Paul Phelps, Mount Vernon Council representative, Little Hunting Creek Steering Committee, said at the committee meeting. "The biggest problem is going to get home owners to put in the necessary controls to moderate the run off."

On May 24, the supervisors authorized the county Department of Public Works and Environmental Services to develop a "Watershed Community Needs Assessment and Funding Options Report," according to staff's background report. This was viewed as the first step towards identifying "long-term solutions to funding the County's stormwater management program."

According to the staff report, "The Stormwater Advisory Committee will be asked to assess the need for change, the appropriate level of service for stormwater management and the different funding options, and then provide recommendations to the board.

"If a stormwater utility fee is selected as the preferred funding option ... the ... Committee can also be used to make recommendations on key policy issues such as a final program level of service, a utility structure, credit program options, and exceptions policies."

In order to allow the supervisors time to consider the committee's recommendations during FY 2006 budget deliberations, "the target date for the first advisory committee meeting" needs to be no later than Sept. 17, according to staff. The advisory committee will be expected to meet monthly, making a final report to the supervisors in February 2005.