New proposed fee in Blacksburg: It’s all about the surface
BLACKSBURG – The town’s long struggle with sewer and runoff issues may soon result in a new fee for residents and businesses.
A town committee has spent months forming a plan to help Blacksburg meet expected future costs of dealing with floods and other storm water problems. A proposal for a new fee, $6 per month for most households – but potentially much more for some businesses – is making its way toward the Town Council, which must decide whether to impose it.
In January, council members were briefed on a preliminary proposal for a $4.50 per month base fee for homeowners. The amount was founded on a calculation that the median amount of hard surface – roofs and pavement – at a Blacksburg residence was 3,300 square feet. Households and businesses would be billed based on how many 3,300-square-foot units they owned.
Councilman John Bush, a storm water committee member, said Wednesday that the proposed monthly fee is now $6 per 3,300-square-foot unit.
Landowners with larger amounts of hard surfaces would pay considerably more. Bob Pack, who developed Kent Square, Collegiate Square and other major commercial projects in Blacksburg, said Thursday that a new storm water fee would make it a bit more difficult to create buildings and facilities that anyone could afford to use.
“If anyone wants to do anything, they’ll have to pay more,” Pack said.
The latest proposal follows years of studies by consultants and town officials. Blacksburg, like other localities, faces a July 2014 deadline to meet new state and federal regulations meant to help control pollution and flooding. Bush said the fee, which is meant to help pay what are expected to be rising costs tied to storm water controls, would be implemented in January 2015 if council approves the proposal.
Town officials have said they spend about $560,000 annually on storm water issues including installing rip-rap and gravel, and reviewing runoff management plans for new development.
In addition, storm water infiltration into the town sewer system was for years a significant issue in some neighborhoods, with heavy rains causing sewage to flow out of manholes or back up into buildings. The political battle over building a conventional sewer through the Tom’s Creek Basin, effects of which continue to resonate through town politics a decade later, stemmed from town plans to increase capacity and alleviate some of these problems.
Bush said the new storm water charge will be a fee attached to utility bills so unlike an increase in property taxes, for example, it will apply to non-profit groups like churches. This seemed appropriate since some of the organizations have large roofs and parking lots that channel storm water, Bush said.
“We need a steady dedicated funding stream to more adequately address these issues,” Bush wrote in an email Thursday, “and the establishment of an enterprise fund that is solely dedicated to storm water needs … we feel is the best approach.”
Businesses can get a credit toward the fee for reducing the amount of storm water that flows from their property or for filtering it, Bush said. The town already has an array of storm water requirements for businesses and meeting these will bring an automatic 40 percent credit, Bush said.
Bush and other committee members have started taking the proposal to various groups around Blacksburg to answer questions and try to rally support. On Sept. 11 and 12, there will be information meetings about the plan at the town recreation center.
A council vote will come some time after that.
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