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Votes

Fairfax Board of Supervisors Considers Raising Stormwater Management Fee

One-penny hike on property tax could raise $35 million for projects throughout the county.

The stormwater tax was created in 2009, when supervisors approved a new service district to support a stormwater management program.

The stormwater tax was created in 2009, when supervisors approved a new service district to support a stormwater management program. Photo by Michael Lee Pope.

Proposed Stormwater Projects

  • $11 million for Stream and Water Quality Improvements: New requirements limiting total maximum load of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment loads entering the Chesapeake Bay will require the county to undertake construction of new stormwater facilities, retrofit existing facilities and increase maintenance.
  • $6.5 million for Conveyance System Rehabilitation: Fairfax County has about 80 miles of underground stormwater pipe in complete failure and 240 miles in need of repair. This funding would be used to review digital imaging of pipe interiors, develop corrective solutions and provide oversight costs.
  • $6.2 million for Dam Safety: Potential large projects include dredging of Lake Huntsman and Royal Lake in addition to the next phase of the Kingstowne Park Dam, which failed in October 2010. New revenue would also help Fairfax County retrofit existing stormwater management facilities constructed before to current standards were created.
  • $5.9 million for Flood Control: This new program is aimed at addressing frequent flooding problems experienced throughout Fairfax County. If approved, stormwater staff will meet with Fairfax County Department of Transportation and Office of Emergency Management staff to identify areas subject to frequent flooding that threaten public safety.
  • $5 million to Meet New EPA Guidelines: Fairfax County’s permit to discharge stormwater into state and federal waters expired back in 2007, and county officials have not been able to get a new one because new guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency. The county is currently operating on an administrative extension while it tries to create an aggressive program to inspect private properties and require contaminants to be removed.
  • $557,000 for Contributory Program: This money would be contributed. About $444,000 would go to the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, which protects the county’s soil and water resources. About $113,000 would go to the Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Program.

When it rains, it pours. That’s why Fairfax County taxpayers may have to fork over more money this year for stormwater management. County Executive Tony Griffin has proposed an increase of one penny on the real-estate tax for a total of 2.5 cents for every $100 of assessed value. The average homeowner would see a $45 increase over the course of a year. The new rate would generate about $35 million, which would be used to meet the flood of new federal and state requirements on storm sewer system.

“Everything on that list is necessary for us to do,” said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland. “And it’s, if you’ll pardon the play on words, a drop in the bucket.”

Griffin’s proposed budget also has 22 new positions to handle stormwater management. Of this total, seven positions will support stream and water quality improvements, four positions will support dam safety and facility rehabilitation, four positions will support regulatory compliance and two positions will support rehabilitation of underground pipes. Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey took issue with Griffin’s suggestion that the increase on property taxes could be considered a stormwater fee.

“It’s not a fee,” said Sully Distrcit Supervisor Michael Frey. “It’s a part of the property tax.”

When Frey suggested the county executive prepare a formal budget document outlining the statutory authority, Chairwoman Sharon Bulova interjected.

“It was also,” Bulova noted, “a unanimous vote at the time when we adopted it.”

“At the time it seemed like a good idea,” added Mason District Supervisor Peggy Gross. “It was a good idea.”

THE STORMWATER TAX was created in 2009, when supervisors approved a new service district to support a stormwater management program. Before that, supervisors had already been dedicating a penny of the tax rate to stormwater projects for four years. The new tax district essentially formalized an existing dedicated source of revenue, which several supervisors say is a responsible way to handle the problems.

“One thing we’ve done very well over the years in Fairfax County is educate our constituents about water issues,” said Gross. “And people are more inclined to call about water issues these days.”

Large parts of Fairfax County developed from the 1950s through the 1970s, long before stormwater controls were established. The county has more than 1,500 miles of underground pipes, including about 250 miles that are more than 40 years old. Until the dedicated penny was established in 2005, the county had done little to invest or maintain the stormwater system. County officials warn that many of these pipes are reaching the end of their useful service life. Some are in failure.

“These are things we are going to have to do because of federal requirements and state requirements on water issues,” said Griffin. “We are using the real-estate tax to assess and collect money for the stormwater program. But it is a separate and distinct program.”