Revised F.C. Storm Water Enterprise Fund Costs Lowered to $1.7 Million

February 6, 2013 5:58 PM5 comments

Annual Budget Drops Sharply After Rewrite

The City of Falls Church’s Civil Engineering and Construction team came back from their drawing boards Monday night to offer a new plan for handling the City’s stormwater needs that will cost 60 percent less than its first draft last month that came in with a whopping $4.271 million 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 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 stormwater enterprise plan up to the recommended 17 percent of annual expenditures. and limiting the City’s contribution to the Chesapeake Bay environmental program from $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 stormwater 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 stormwater, and to swiftly repair pipes and catch basins when breaks occur. He said that crews continue to discover now sinkholes 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.

  • vseidita

    It is always good to start with a ridiculously high estimate in these situations to that additional spending of $2,000,000 by the city looks like a bargain for taxpayers. Did the city officials consider the impact on the taxpayers? If this is added to our water bill we all pay with after tax dollars. Why doesn’t the city borrow the $2 million at historically low interest rates and pay it off over thirty years and add it to our property taxes so that we can pay with pre tax dollars which cost us a lot less.

    • philduncan

      Thanks for your comment, Vinny. Good questions you pose. During the Council’s 2/4 work session there was indeed discussion on whether to pay for stormwater management improvements via property taxes (our current method), or by creating a separate new utility fee — which, as you note, would not be tax-deductible by homeowners.

      There are reasonable arguments for and against both approaches. If enough citizens and businesses show interest, perhaps Council will continue to give equal consideration to both funding mechanisms. I hope so, because I think that a full public discussion will help the community better understand and hopefully endorse the path Council chooses.

      As you’ll see if you watch the tape of the work session, there are Council members with a very strong preference for a separate utility fee. They argue the merits of that approach quite forcefully. I am listening attentively to their arguments and have an open mind. But, as I noted, I feel it would be to the civic good if Council also gives equal and serious consideration to funding stormwater improvements via property taxes.

      Whichever funding mechanism we finally choose, what’s MOST important is that we have a very clear idea from staff about what improvement projects most urgently need to be done, and how long it will take to do them with the amount of money Council can reasonably collect for this civic priority. Obviously, stormwater work is by no means our City’s only infrastructure need. But especially for residents in certain flood-prone areas, it is a very pressing need.

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