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Slowly but surely, Roanoke will begin to charge property owners their share for solving storm water problems.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
The last time Roanoke City Council got this close to assessing a storm water fee, Super Storm Backlash wiped out its best laid plan.
Nonresidential property owners complained they were caught unaware, were already under assault by the Great Recession and that any further blows to their budgets would place them precariously underwater. Council backed down, but not away.
In the intervening years, much thought and community outreach has gone into developing plans for a storm water utility that attempts to treat each property owner fairly by assessing fees based on the share of storm water a property’s structures contribute to the problem, and by offering credits to property owners who attempt to lessen their load.
By the time a public hearing arrives next month, all property owners in Roanoke should be able to calculate how much they will pay once the storm water utility is fully operational and what types of things they can do to trim their bills.
And they should also by now understand that Roanoke must comply with federal and state mandates requiring it to address substantial storm water run-off problems. Ignoring regulators will place in jeopardy the city’s permit, due for renewal next year, and result in penalties.
The storm water bill will be similar to water and sewer bills and based on how much a property contributes to the run-off of storm water that collectively causes flooding in Roanoke and sends toxins into the river and streams. To arrive at a fair sum, staff is using the city’s Geographic Information System to measure the amount of impervious surface on every property. Measurements for non-residential properties will be ready by Monday, and for residential properties by Oct. 8. (Property owners can check the GIS maps, or if lacking computer access, they can call the city at 853-2000.)
Plans call for a 90-cent fee to be assessed for each 500-square-foot unit. City council members, though, are cognizant of the hardship a new utility bill might cause for those with large roofs and parking lots. Commercial and industrial properties, along with nonprofits and churches, will need time to build this cost into their budgets.
Earlier, city leaders had discussed phasing in the fee over three years: for example, 30 cents the first year, 60 the second and 90 the third. But the severe rainstorms that led to flooding this summer have caused some council members to think that it might be better to phase it in over two years so they could address more problem areas.
They are likely to hear plenty of opinions during the coming months as to which is the more prudent course. And good arguments could be made all around. But what shouldn’t be in dispute is the need to create the utility and to start collecting funds to address a problem that grows only larger.