The Charlottesville City Council will soon consider a proposal to levy a fee on property owners to cover the cost of infrastructure to protect the quality of water entering area streams.

A previous council opted not to proceed when the fee was last brought before them in November 2008. However, councilors did agree at that time to spend more to rehabilitate the city’s aging stormwater system.
However, tougher federal and state regulations will require new infrastructure to meet new standards.
“New requirements encourage keeping as much stormwater on site as possible to minimize pollutants and reduce velocity and volume of runoff,” said Jean Haggerty of AMEC Environment and Infrastructure, a firm hired by the city to help create the water resources protection program four years ago.
Beginning next July, the city will be required by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to establish design criteria for stormwater controls. In addition, a permit that governs the city’s municipal storm sewer system will end next year and will only be renewed if the city can show it can meet the new requirements.
Additionally, Charlottesville must comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s mandate to reduce pollution that enters the Chesapeake Bay.
Since 2008, the city has spent about $1.35 million to repair and replace deteriorating stormwater pipes. In that time, engineers have learned more about how dilapidated the system has become.
“Based on this new knowledge, the estimated cost for completion of the system rehabilitation on corrugated metal and vitrified clay pipes has increased from $4.5 million to approximately $10 million,” said Kristel Riddervold, the city’s environmental administrator.
This past summer, council asked staff to reconvene a committee that helped shepherd the original water resources protection program to see if the fee could be resurrected to cover the additional costs.
The group consists of stakeholders representing neighborhood associations, developers and the University of Virginia.
The fee would be based on the amount of impervious surfaces on properties, including buildings, driveways and parking lots.
Haggerty said there are approximately 63,300 billing units in the city, each representing 1,000 square feet of impervious surface.
In 2008, staff had suggested a rate of $2.10 per billing unit, but will likely propose higher rates due to the increased costs that are anticipated. The fee would be paid at the same time as property taxes.
The cities of Richmond, Staunton and Lynchburg have all adopted stormwater utility fees since 2008.
At a meeting on Wednesday, committee members discussed whether Albemarle County could be compelled to participate in the program, particularly in the urban ring.
“I think this is an area where the city and county should sit down,” said Chuck Rotgin of the Great Eastern Management Company, the firm that developed the Seminole Square Shopping Center. “
This is an area where revenue sharing should be used.”
Other members of the committee agreed with Rotgin and directed Riddervold to find ways to get the county involved.
“There needs to be a recommendation that the city shouldn’t be doing this alone,” said John Conover, who represents the city on the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conversation District.
However, Riddervold said waiting for the city and county to agree on a joint funding process would mean a mechanism will not be put in place in a timely manner.
“It puts another five years out before we could even start moving forward,” Riddervold said. “We’re looking at a funding problem in 18 months.”
The committee also discussed how property owners might receive credit for mitigation facilities such as rain gardens. For instance, plants in those gardens take up water that would otherwise head downstream into the watershed.
“Credits are basically adjustments to stormwater fees,” Haggerty said. “If you have done something to control runoff on your parcel, we would adjust the fee based on that. … We’re really looking for offsets for the TMDL compliance.”
The amount of credit to a property owner would be related to services provided to the city in meeting its overall goals of improving water quality.
“If we decide to keep some of our water on site, that means the city doesn’t have to construct facilities to accommodate our water,” Rotgin said.
The committee agreed in general to support recommending a fee. Rates were discussed, but no specific direction was given. They also agreed with a proposal to bond the cost of all the necessary improvements and use the fee to pay down the debt service over a number of years.
Staff will finalize a report by early November for the committee’s review. A public outreach session on the topic will be held later that month. City Council will be briefed in January.
Charlottesville Tomorrow is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization covering land-use and transportation issues in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.