2014-02-19 / News

Bay cleanup could mean new fee for homeowners

By Michael Buettner

When it comes to paying for federal and state regulators’ plans for cleaning up the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, the buck is apparently going to stop with local property owners.

A committee of county staff members and representatives of the local development and conservation communities has recommended that Chesterfield meet the costs of a required stormwater cleanup campaign by charging county landowners a fee of 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The fee would be assessed through a new “service district,” an administrative entity usually created to collect funds for specific, geographically limited goals, such as road improvements.

The Board of Supervisors voted last week to include the proposed service district and fee in advance public notices advertising the board’s public hearings on the county’s fiscal year 2015 budget and tax rates, but supervisors noted that the vote doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily approve the plan. The fee will be advertised at 1.6 cents but could end up below the 1.5-cent level if additional research indicates the cost of the cleanup program will be less than expected.

Scott Smedley, director of the Department of Environmental Engineering, told the board last week that “it’s crucial that we establish a funding source now” to pay the costs of meeting the stormwater mandates, which are expected to total more than $150 million over the next 15 years.

The main impact will come from a program called the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which was established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010. It aims to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries by reducing pollution “loads” of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has developed a plan that allows localities to implement the necessary pollutant reductions during the next 15 years. The plan requires a 5 percent reduction in pollutants by 2018. After 10 years, localities must reduce pollution by 35 percent. By the end of the 15-year plan, which started in 2010, pollutants must be reduced by 60 percent.

The county estimates that construction projects and facility upgrades needed to meet those standards will cost about $9.7 million in the first phase, about $54.4 million in the second phase; and about $104 million in the third phase.

Smedley said the committee appointed to study how to pay for those projects found that creating a service district and an assessment on real estate was the best of the options it considered.

For one thing, he said, the county has experience administering service districts, such as the transportation service district created in 2005 to finance construction of the Route 288 interchange with Midlothian Turnpike.

In addition, Smedley noted, the plan would not require any additional staff to be hired.

Unlike other service districts created in the past to finance specific, localized improvements, the stormwater service district would cover the entire county, Smedley said.

At the proposed rate of 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, Smedley said, the fee would cost the owner of a home assessed at the countywide average value of $218,000 about $33 a year. Overall, he said, “91 percent of properties would be paying $51 a year or less.”

The assessment would collect a total of about $55 million over the next 10 years. That would leave the county about $10 million short of the expected cost, and Smedley said the county is “counting on $10 million in grants to make up the difference.”

The board voted 4-1 to advertise the proposed service district and assessment in advance of next month’s public hearings on the county budget and capital improvement program. Matoaca District Supervisor Steve Elswick cast the only dissenting vote.

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