The City of Falls Church’s Civil Engineering and Construction team came back from their drawing boards tonight to offer a new plan for handling the City’s storm water needs that will cost 60 percent less than its first draft last month that came in with a whopping $4.271,000 annual price tag. The new plan, presented at the Council’s work session tonight by Engineering Director Bill Hicks, has an annual cost of $1,772,000 million, and a happy Council deemed it ready to present to the public for its vetting.
The Council indicated the preferred approach would be to set up a storm water enterprise fund and have property owners billed according to the amount of impervious surface on their holdings, rather than as an across-the-board 4.4 cent surcharge on everyone’s real estate taxes. However, that may change depending on the public reaction at a series of town hall meetings that will be scheduled. Tentatively, a first meeting will be held in late February hosted by the Citizens for a Better City.
Hicks indicated that the cost of the plan was lowered by considering a number factors, including savings in operational efficiency resulting from the sale (should voters agree to do it through a referendum in November) of the City’s water system, among other things. Savings will also come from taking five years instead of one to bring the maintained fund balance associated with the storm water enterprise plan up to the recommended 17 percent of annual expenditures. and limiting the City’s contribution to the Chesapeake Bay environmental program fro $25 million to $15 million of improvements, and to extend the life of temporary fixes on broken water pipes, etc., before replacing them with permanent fixes.
Vice Mayor David Snyder said it will be important to inform the public on the two-fold need for the storm water upgrades, the first in response to climate modifications that created such incidents as the Tropical Storm Lee that wreaked havoc with storm water and sewer lines from a sustained drenching rain in September 2011 to the stiff requirements of the federal Environmental Protection Agency that includes penalties for non-compliance.
Hicks noted his plan calls for the hiring of a four-man crew dedicated to cleaning debris out of pipes and other conveyances of storm water, and to swiftly repair pipes and catch basins when breaks occur. He said that crews continue to discover now sink holes and other effects of the memorable Summer 2011 earthquake.
Councilman Phil Duncan also echoed comments of other of his colleagues when he said, “The public will need to know what the new costs they will be bearing will buy it.” While there are a total of 20 large projects for improvements that have been identified in the City’s 2.2 square miles, not all of them will be undertaken right away, but the public will want to know which ones will be tackled first, and how long it will take to get them all done, he said.