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Stafford board rejects new tax increase

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Stafford County residents will not be taxed to help the county meet stormwater mandates anytime soon.

The Board of Supervisors rejected the creation of a countywide stormwater service district at its Tuesday meeting, killing the potential for a half-cent tax on stormwater.

State and federal mandates aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay have translated to a $42 million cost to operate Stafford’s stormwater system over the next 15 years. The majority of that cost, $30 million, would have gone to meet the mandates to reduce the amount of runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. The rest, $12 million, would have gone to operate Stafford’s current stormwater system.

County staff originally proposed a 1-cent stormwater tax, which would have generated $1.4 million in annual revenue, to cover the cost. Supervisors instead advertised a half-cent stormwater tax. The $700,000 in annual revenue created by the half-cent tax would still have caused the county to fall well short of the $42 million cost.

The stormwater tax was meant to go toward operations, public outreach, construction of new facilities and the rehabilitation of streams, Stafford Public Works Director Michael Smith has said.

Without the district and the tax, the county will have to find about $590,000 in next year’s budget to keep the county’s current stormwater system running.

That $590,000 covers just operating expenses. County Administrator Anthony Romanello will come back to the board in June with recommended cuts to next year’s budget. Romanello later said that the money will have to come out of the county’s general fund.

About another $348,000 will have to be found in year-end savings in this year’s budget to fund capital expenses mainly related to the mandates. Smith said engineering studies to the county’s existing watersheds are an example of a capital expense.

Funds to cover the capital expenses were needed this year because the mandates have placed deadlines on the county to meet certain stormwater runoff benchmarks, Smith said.

The county will continue to have capital expenses to meet the mandates.

The vote to deny the creation of the stormwater service district passed by a 5–2 vote. Supervisors Gary Snellings and Laura Sellers cast the only votes in support of creating the district.

Supervisor Robert Thomas asked county staff to look into the idea of a stormwater utility fee, another type of funding mechanism for stormwater costs. Instead of a countywide stormwater district, the fee would be based on the average amount of impervious surface a commercial or residential parcel contains. Impervious surfaces are those surfaces that do not easily absorb rainwater, and contribute to stormwater runoff. Thomas said that county staff previously described the fee as a more equitable way to cover stormwater costs.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975

vremmers@freelancestar.com

 

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