Local Commentary

Editorial: Borrow for the Storm Water Fix

As the Falls Church City Council was expected to five a preliminary approval to the establishment of a new Storm Water Utility with a separate storm water utility fee billed on the basis of every 200 feet of impervious area on a property in the City.

Among other things, being a fee, technically, rather than a tax, if this were to become law with a second vote next month, it would apply to non-profits as well as large businesses and all residences in the City, and would represent a whopping new added expense to any establishment with surface parking in the City.

This initiative stems from one rain event in the City on Sept. 8, 2011, when persistent, slow and steady rain over a weekend caused flooding of the City’s storm water and waste water pipes, flooding the basements of dozens of homes in different areas of the City.

The City also faces $15 million in new Chesapeake Bay clean water mandates from federal and state environmental agencies over the next 15 years, with stiff fines for non-compliance. In 2009, the City established a Watershed Advisory Committee of 14 citizens, none of whom, apparently, included members of the aforementioned businesses and services requiring large surface parking lots.

The Council, when this matter was first presented last fall, was told it would require a whopping $4.5 million annually to address the problem in a comprehensive way, the equivalent to 14 cents on the real estate tax rate. When that number became public in early January, there was a firestorm of reaction, and by late last month, a revised plan was introduced costing less than half that amount at $1.7 million yearly.

The credibility of the plan, overall, took a hit from the swift and deft ability to reduce its cost by well over 50 percent, and the fact that it would cost residents an average of 5.5 cents on the real estate tax rate still causes a lot of heartburn.

The “fee” proposal shifts the burden, but only slightly, as non-profits and big businesses would pay a disproportionately high rate, based on square feet of impervious surfaces on their properties, than others.

But in a period when the City’s mandate to meet the challenge of providing for its highly-esteemed school system is requiring record levels of funding increases, itself, this is no time to also be dropping this storm water bomb shell on its citizens and businesses.

With one of the very lowest debt to revenue rates of any jurisdiction in the entire United States, the City of Falls Church could not be better positioned to relieve its citizens of this untimely burden by bonding for the establishment and maintenance of the Storm Water Utility. Citizens, we are confident, would be much happier paying the debt service on such an undertaking than paying the full amount every year, and we all know that interest rates for doing this are at record lows.