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Stafford Residents, Leaders Wrangle With Paying for Storm Water Plan

STAFFORD, Va. — Residents will get to speak out on a plan to enact a 1 cent tax levy for a $42 million storm water management plan. Stafford County officials on Tuesday authorized a public hearing for April 15 before the County Board of Supervisors.

Officials must decide whether or not to create a storm water service district to help curb pollutants that flow into streams and rivers from entering the Chesapeake Bay. Since 2003, Virginia has required Stafford County to inspect storm water management facilities owned by private home owners associations, but new federal mandates put Stafford and other area counties on a “pollution diet” that means they have to reduce even further the amount of nutrients and sediments flowing to the bay.

The new program is mandatory for Virginia counties east of Charlottesville, as well as counties in Maryland and Washington, D.C., It’s expected to 15 years to implement the new mandated storm water management plan in Stafford, according to County Administrator Anthony Romanello.

Where the money would go

The money would be used for constructing new stream restoration projects, new storm water management facilities, and, in limited cases, enhancing storm water management facilities already in use by private home owners associations (HOAs).

“This problem is not going away, the sooner we communicate with the public, the better,” said Stafford Aquia District Supervisor Paul Midle about the need for a storm water district. The one-cent levy would raise $1.4 million annually and county residents would begin to pay the price for the new district as early as June when local taxes are collected. Unspent monies would be placed into a lock box to be carried over to the following year and would only be spent on storm water services.

‘Paying for deadbeats’

But some fear the new tax would make everyone pay for storm water management, and they call it a slap in the face for those who have already been paying their HOA dues to manage their storm water, as well as take care of neighborhood ponds, dredging, and clearing beaver dams from perennials streams.

“I don’t support tax district for everyone, and I would consider it a welfare fund for taking care of [HOA storm water management] systems that are not maintained,” said Dana Brown, of St. George Estates. “The county needs to go after the systems that have dormant the longest. My HOA budgets for it every year. I shouldn’t have to pay for the deadbeats who choose to ignore their systems.”

Locking in the rate at a penny

Romanello said setting the levy at a penny now would prevent it from going up in the future.

“If you set [the levy] as a penny now, hopefully with growth in our tax base, that should enable us to leave it at a penny for the next several years,” said Romanello. He adds the Board of Supervisors could stipulate the monies be put in a lockbox to only be used for storm water services once collected over time.

A Cadillac plan?

Rockhill District Supervisor Cord Sterling asked Romanello to come back to the Board with a listing of what surrounding counties pay to manage their storm water runoff.

“You say $42 million and some other counties say they can get by on $5 million. I question why we think it’s 42 million. I don’t want to go with the Cadillac plan on a state mandate if we don’t have to,” he said.

Sterling did not reference a particular county when he referred to the $5 million cost. In 2012, neighboring Prince William County spent nearly $8 million managing storm water runoff.

The cost to reduce the nutrients and sediments, also referred to as total maximum daily load (TMDL), will largely be borne by local governments in the region.

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