Water Resources Program  |  Stormwater Utility Frequently Asked Questions
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OVERVIEW FAQ's ADVISORY PANEL BOARD OF SUPERVISOR MEETINGS

FAQs and Responses

These Frequently Asked Questions are intended to provide broad information on a proposed stormwater utility. The use of a stormwater utility to support water resource protection programs and the proposed method to compute fees for each County property have been developed over several years through the collaboration of the Board of Supervisors, a citizen advisory committee, a consultant, and County staff and in consideration of much community feedback. Please note many details are still being worked through. The Board of Supervisors is expected to receive an update on some of these details in spring 2018 and any decision to enact a utility would occur no earlier than summer 2018.

 

Background on Stormwater Programs

What programs would be supported by the utility?

What is the total cost of Albemarle’s stormwater programs? How is that cost expected to change over time?

How have Albemarle’s stormwater programs been funded in the past?

 

Stormwater Utility – What is it and how would it work?

What is a stormwater utility?

What is impervious area?

What is a GIS and how does the County collect the GIS data used to calculate utility fees?

What is the proposed utility rate?

How can I find out what my utility fee would be under this proposal?

Can I receive credit for reducing stormwater runoff on my property?

What properties would be exempt from the fee?

What properties would pay the fee?

Will a stormwater utility result in the creation of a new bureaucracy?

Do other localities use a stormwater utility fee to fund stormwater programs?

 

Billing

How would I be billed for the proposed stormwater utility fee?

 

Process

Why is Albemarle County considering a stormwater utility?

When is the County expected to decide whether to establish a stormwater utility fee?

Why has a stormwater utility been recommended as the funding mechanism?

 

How do I find out more?

What is the upcoming schedule for implementing the stormwater utility?

Will there be public meetings and/or hearings that I can attend?

Who can I contact if I have other questions about the proposed stormwater utility?

How can I share my thoughts on this potential stormwater utility fee?

 

Background on Stormwater Programs

What programs would be supported by the utility?

The County intends to use the stormwater utility to support all major programs related to the protection of water resources, as described below.

 

Existing programs:

·       Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Program – minimizing pollution discharges into local streams through measures such as public education, public participation, illicit discharge detection and elimination, and pollution prevention on County properties

·       Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Planning and Implementation – addressing local and regional water impairments through capital projects and other best management practices

·       Regulatory and Enforcement Programs – ensuring land disturbing activities, including new development, minimize impacts to waters through:

o   Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Program (VESCP)

o   Virginia Stormwater Management Program (VSMP)

·       Stream Buffer – protecting the vegetated riparian area along designated streams

·       Dam Safety – maintaining and improving six state-regulated dams

 

All existing programs, except for stream buffer protection, are mandated by federal and state requirements.

 

New Programs:

·       Drainage Infrastructure Management (Grey Infrastructure) – assessing, maintaining, and repairing built infrastructure that conveys runoff (includes pipes, channels, inlets, and manholes). An example of the type of work that will be done under this program is the 2015 repair of a sinkhole on Carrsbrook Drive that was caused by severely corroded metal pipes that run beneath the road.

·       Watershed Restoration (Green Infrastructure) – improving water quality and the overall health of impaired streams and watersheds through better land use practices, stormwater management, and capital projects. An example of the type of work that will be done under this program is an early-stage pilot project to improve stream health throughout a small watershed by implementing a series of distributed best management practices (BMPs), including stream buffer enhancements, native plantings, rain gardens, and others.

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What is the total cost of Albemarle’s stormwater programs? How is that cost expected to change over time?

The cost of implementing the existing programs in FY18 is approximately $2.85M, which includes about $1.2M to design and construct capital projects to meet TMDL requirements. The remainder supports the equivalent of about 16.5 staff who implement existing programs, including MS4/TMDL program implementation, engineering review, construction site inspections, and dam safety. The utility would support both the existing programs and new programs. In the first year, new programs will increase the total annual program cost by about $1.9M, with the additional funds going toward the capital and operating costs associated with the grey and green infrastructure programs (described above).

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How have Albemarle’s stormwater programs been funded in the past?

All stormwater programs have been primarily supported by the County’s General Fund – which includes real property taxes, other local taxes, and state and federal revenues. In addition, the County collects permit fees related to development and other land disturbing activities and pro rata fees to utilize regional stormwater management facilities. In 2014, the Board earmarked 0.7 cents of the real property tax rate for water resource programs; this was equivalent to about $1.23M in fiscal year 2017. This earmark does not cover all of the costs associated with current stormwater programs – the balance of revenue needs come from the general fund and fees described above.

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Stormwater Utility – What is it and how would it work?

What is a stormwater utility?

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.

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What is impervious area?

Impervious areas are those that prevent rainfall from readily absorbing into the ground. Impervious areas include buildings, parking lots, driveways, and roadways. The amount or density of impervious area within a watershed is strongly linked to the health of the receiving water; the higher the percentage of impervious area, the more impaired the stream or bay is likely to be. Note that areas of compacted gravel are considered impervious by Virginia Administrative Code, so gravel driveways are treated similarly to asphalt or other driveway surfaces.

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How would the proposed stormwater utility fee be calculated?

The utility fee is proposed to be based on the amount of impervious area on each property, with some additional considerations. Impervious area will be tallied in blocks called billing units; each 500 square feet of impervious area equals one billing unit. The total square footage of impervious area is determined using the County Geographic Information System (GIS) and then divided by 500 to calculate the number of billing units. Natural rounding will be used. For instance, 1.49 would be rounded down to one billing unit, while 1.50 would be rounded up to two billing units.

 

The annual stormwater utility fee is calculated by multiplying the number of billing units by the utility rate, in dollars per billing unit. Note that the utility rate will depend on the finalized rate structure and credit policies, which have not yet been considered by the Board.

 

The methodology to calculate the billing units for different property types is described below:

 

Non-residential properties:

The total square footage of impervious area is proposed to be calculated using the GIS and then divided by 500 to calculate the number of billing units. The number of billing units will be multiplied by the utility rate to compute the annual fee.

 

Residential properties, including farms:

The number of billing units for residential properties is proposed to be calculated in the same way as that for non-residential properties, except the amount of impervious area is considered differently. For residential properties, driveways and farm roads serving buildings located on other properties would not be considered in the fee calculation. In other words, property owners will not pay for their neighbor’s driveway. In addition, only the portions of driveways and parking areas within 100 feet of buildings would be considered in the calculation of the fee. The portion of the driveway used to simply access homes or other buildings from roadways would not be considered. Property owners generally have no control over the length of driveways, and runoff from linear features like driveways is more readily mitigated by surrounding land – such as forests or fields.

 

The following image depicts how the amount of impervious area would be determined for an example property. Only the building and the portion of the driveway within 100 feet of the building – the discretionary portions that serve as parking areas –are included in the billing unit calculation.

 

 

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What is a GIS and how does the County collect the GIS data used to calculate utility fees?

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.

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How would the amount of impervious area on my property be measured?

The stormwater utility will not require collecting new data about properties. The County will use the following existing data to compute utility fees:

 

·         Impervious areas:

o   buildings, including commercial structures, homes, garages, barns, outbuildings

o   parking lots

o   driveways* (it is proposed that a portion of residential/farm driveways be considered)

·         Parcel data:

o   boundary lines

o   ownership information

·         Stormwater facilities:

o   footprints

o   watershed boundaries

 

The County will not consider the following as impervious area as part of the stormwater utility fee computation:

 

·         private roadways

·         sidewalks (except some as parts of commercial sites), walkways, patios, decks

·         hay bales, tanks, farm equipment, trucks, trailers, and any other movable equipment

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What is the proposed utility rate?

The utility rate is dependent on a number of factors, including the methodology to compute billing units and the credit policies. These factors are scheduled to be formally considered by the Board at a work session on April 11, 2018. Based on the current proposal and assumptions, the utility rate will very likely be between $10 and $13 per billing unit per year.

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How can I find out what my utility fee would be under this proposal?

Once the proposed rate structure and credit policies have been considered by the Board - currently scheduled for April 11, 2018 – and a proposed utility rate is confirmed, property owners will be able to look up their utility fee using the County’s GISWeb.

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Can I receive credit for reducing stormwater runoff on my property?

Under the proposed structure, yes. Your utility fee would be able to be reduced if you take measures to reduce your property’s discharges of stormwater volume or pollution. For instance, you can receive credit if your property is served by a structural stormwater management facility, whether built voluntarily or as a condition of development. You could also receive credit for other practices, such as installing rain barrels, conservation landscaping, or pet waste stations. A credit policy will be available following the direction of the Board of Supervisors this spring.

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What properties would be exempt from the fee?

Only those properties owned by entities implementing their own State-regulated stormwater management program would be exempt from the utility fee. In Albemarle, these exempt entities include the Virginia Department of Transportation, the City of Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, and the Piedmont Virginia Community College. The fee would not be applied to public roads, private roads, portions of private driveways, and railroad beds.

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What properties would pay the fee?

The utility fee is applicable to Albemarle County local government and public schools, other governments, tax-exempt organizations, and all other property owners except those listed above.

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Will a stormwater utility result in the creation of a new bureaucracy?

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.

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Could funds collected through the stormwater utility be used for other County programs?

No. Virginia administrative code requires that income derived from a utility be dedicated special revenue that can be used only to support programs related to the utility; in this case, stormwater management and water resource protection.

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Do other localities use a stormwater utility fee to fund stormwater programs?

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.

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Billing

How would I be billed for the proposed stormwater utility fee?

If a stormwater utility fee is enacted, the utility fee would be included on your real estate property tax bill – issued twice a year by the County Finance Department in May (due in June) and November (due in December). Each bill would include half the annual fee. If full payment of the tax bill is not received, the utility fee is paid before property taxes. Mortgage companies generally pay stormwater utility fees if the fees are included on the property tax bill. Stormwater fees are not tax-deductible.

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Process

Why is Albemarle County considering a stormwater utility?

Over many years, increasing federal and state mandates – as well as a desire by the Board to better achieve County infrastructure and environmental goals – has increased stormwater program revenue needs. In 2014, the Board earmarked 0.7 cents of the real estate property tax rate for water resource programs and expressed an interest in considering a permanent, dedicated funding source as an alternative to increasing the burden on the General Fund, which relies heavily on the real estate property tax revenues. That year, the Board appointed the Water Resources Funding Advisory Committee to study options for a funding source and provide a recommendation. On October 7, 2015, the Board received the committee’s recommendation for an enhanced stormwater program and the creation of a stormwater utility for funding. On September 7, 2016, the Board affirmed the 10-year stormwater program plan and directed staff to begin developing the systems and policies by which a utility could be implemented.

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When is the County expected to decide whether to establish a stormwater utility fee?

At a September 2016 Board meeting, the Board expressed its interest in establishing a stormwater utility and directed staff to begin developing the systems and policies by which a utility could be implemented. A utility is officially established through an amendment to the County Code by the Board. The Board is expected to receive an update on work progress in spring 2018 and any decision to enact a utility would occur no earlier than summer 2018. This webpage (www.albemarle.org/waterfunding) will post all relevant Board meeting dates.

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Why has a stormwater utility been recommended as the funding mechanism?

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.

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How do I find out more?

What is the upcoming schedule for implementing the stormwater utility?

The Board is expected to have a work session to receive the proposed utility rate structure and credit policies in Spring 2018. Following this work session, a series of public information sessions will be held throughout the County over a period of several months. Feedback from this process will be conveyed to the Board as it considers adopting a utility later in 2018. That process will also include a public hearing, where the Board will receive further public comments on the proposed utility.

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Will there be public meetings and/or hearings that I can attend?

The Board decision to adopt a stormwater utility must be preceded by a public hearing – at which community members will have an opportunity to provide public comment. In addition, many opportunities to learn more about the proposed utility and provide public comment will be provided throughout the community in Spring/Summer 2018. This webpage (www.albemarle.org/waterfunding ) will post all relevant community meeting dates. You can view a copy of past community outreach and media coverage of this topic here [link to engagement and outreach].

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Who can I contact if I have other questions about the proposed stormwater utility?

You can receive assistance by contacting the County’s Environmental Services Division at 434/296-5816 or stormwaterutility@albemarle.org.

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How can I share my thoughts on this potential stormwater utility fee?

If you have particular thoughts or concerns you’d like to share, please email Greg Harper at gharper@albemarle.org or your County Supervisor (click here for list of supervisors).

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