Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Understanding F.C.’s Stormwater Utility Fee

By Jason Widstrom

In a few weeks, every property owner in the City will receive a mailing explaining the new Stormwater Utility Fee. You’ll see a sample bill, impervious area calculations for your property, and a description of the credit program. Before this arrives at your doorstep, we wanted to take this opportunity to explain how and why this important program was created.

Stormwater management in the Little City has been a hot topic over the last three years. Storm events like the one we experienced in September 2011 remind us that maintaining our stormwater infrastructure is important to the general health and safety of those that live, work, and play in the City of Falls Church. The recent tightening of state and federal environmental policy has also raised awareness about the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Understandably, what we do today has an immediate and lasting impact on our local natural resources like our streams, Tripp’s Run and Four Mile Run.

The solutions to our drainage, water quality, and maintenance problems are not simple or inexpensive. Because of this, the City adopted a strategic Watershed Management Plan in 2012 that took a holistic look at effectively managing our stormwater. The plan outlined the issues we’re facing and set a path to achieve the goals of the community. The array of actions proposed by the plan included: policy and ordinance changes; staff additions; programmatic changes to the city’s stormwater program; design and construction of 11 projects around the City; and creation of a dedicated funding stream for the City’s stormwater program. In response to the needs identified in the plan, the City Council passed an ordinance in April 2013 that created the Stormwater Utility.

The purpose of the Stormwater Utility is to provide an adequate, sustainable source of revenue for stormwater management in order to maintain the service level that is necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the city. The City Council weighed options for addressing the fact that higher amounts of impervious area like roofs, driveways, parking lots, sidewalks, and patios contribute greater amounts of stormwater and pollutants to our streams, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. The City Council determined after much deliberation that it is in the best interest of the public, and most equitable, to enact a stormwater utility fee that allocates stormwater management program costs to property owners based on impervious area.

Revenue collected by the utility fee is placed in a stormwater management enterprise fund that can only be used for the City’s stormwater management program. The funds pay for City staff (e.g. engineers, inspectors, maintenance crew, and supervisor) to clean and repair 27 miles of stormwater pipes, 1.5 miles of open stream, 1400 inlets and manholes; to design and oversee the construction of capital projects; and to manage the City’s state-required stormwater permit and floodplain program. Additionally, the fund is used to purchase construction materials for repairs and new infrastructure.

The City also has a credit program readily available for all property owners. A credit is a reduction in impervious area due to implementation of a stormwater management facility. A credited area is subtracted from a property’s total impervious area prior to calculating the fee for the stormwater utility. In all cases a property can achieve no more than a 95% credit. Stormwater management facilities are given credits because, when operated and maintained properly, they reduce the quantity and improve the quality of stormwater runoff. This in turn reduces the need for capital investment in new infrastructure. In order to participate in the program an application must be submitted to the City and renewed on a yearly basis. Further information is available on the website listed below and will be included in the mailing that will be sent out in the next few weeks.

When you receive the mailing, take a look at the sample bill and how the City arrived at the calculation. We encourage property owners to make a thorough review and apply for credits now. The first official billing will be a part of the June 2014 property tax bill.

The Stormwater Utility Fee is an important program for the health and safety of our community. For more information, please visit the City’s website at www.fallschurchva.gov/Stormwater.


Jason Windstrom is the City of Falls Chuch’s Stormwater Engineer.