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Roanoke property owners will need to understand why they are required to pay to help keep toxins and debris from being washed into Roanoke River.
Sunday, July 7, 2013
There isn’t a choice. Roanoke is required not only to reduce the amount of run-off entering streams that feed the Roanoke River, but to do all that is possible to reduce the amount of toxins and debris that is swept up along the way.
Ignoring the $74 million problem is not an option. When Roanoke City Council first discussed forming a storm water utility five years ago, the problem was priced at $60 million. As the cost and the pressure from state and federal regulators rise, council can no longer tarry.
Plans made in 2008 were shelved for a number of reasons, chief being that the recession was crippling businesses and crimping household budgets. A new fee, though modest for homeowners, would have been hard to absorb for businesses, churches and nonprofits. Also, many complained they didn’t have time to prepare for the fee, understand the need for it or take measures to reduce their run-off so that their bills could be lowered.
While informed property owners used the interim to prepare, others may be unaware that the inevitable could be held off only so long. Time is up.
To comply with mandates, Roanoke will need to accrue about $4.1 million a year and has but two ways to raise it: higher property taxes or a storm water utility. Raising property taxes would penalize crop farmers with fields acting as nature’s filter, while letting parking lot owners pay very little even as they contribute greatly to the problem. Nor would this encourage anyone to adopt measures to contain run-off.
Roanoke is inclined to opt for a fairer storm water utility and charge each property owner according to how much of the land is improved with building roofs, driveways and parking lots. The plan being floated calls for city staff to measure each property so that a fee can be assessed for each 500 square feet of impervious surface.
Though the plan calls for disseminating this information in November, property owners can log into the city’s GIS website, gisre.roanokeva.gov/, and do a rough calculation by multiplying their units of 500 square feet by a rate of 85 cents to 90 cents to determine an approximate monthly charge. In doing so, neighbors with the same amount of livable square footage will find that the bill for a two-story home will be less than the one for a ranch. On average, though, residential customers’ bills should still be about $35 a year, though some may be much smaller or larger depending on the amount of land covered with hard surfaces.
Businesses, churches and nonprofits may find that their calculations lead to bills greater than they are currently prepared to pay. To lessen the sting, council plans to phase in the fee over three years and allow property owners to adopt measures that mitigate the amount of run-off and receive credits.
Though council and staff have continued over the past five years to plan for this day, holding numerous briefings and talking with any and all who expressed interest, the delay lulled some into thinking it was no longer an eventuality. Those caught unaware will have questions that deserve thorough answers. What no one has, though, is the ability to pull the plug on paying to solve this costly problem.
Weather JournalEarly mix, then ice storm Sunday