F.C. Churches Howl as New Storm Water Fees Would Penalize Their Parking Lots

March 27, 2013 7:57 PM4 comments

Clergy Set Meeting At City Hall as New Plan Nears Adoption

The popular pastor of the long-established Dulin United Methodist Church in downtown Falls Church spearheaded expressions of concerns from pastors of at least four other City churches last week by calling their attention to the high cost they would all bear if a new Falls Church Storm Water Utility fee were imposed.

The Rev. M. Davies Kirkland, who in the course of his 13 years of ministry here has often approached the F.C. City Council in support of affordable housing and aid to the homeless issues, submitted a letter last Friday to all members of the City Council about his concerns for the impending fee.

He was especially concerned that no one from the “faith community” in Falls Church was included on the 14-member Watershed Advisory Committee’s deliberations that led to the development of the policy, which faced a preliminary City Council approval last night.

Davies contacted the ministers of other large and historic City-based churches – Falls Church Presbyterian, Falls Church Episcopal, Christ Crossman Methodist, Columbia Baptist and St. James Catholic – to address the problem with the plan.

Davies reported to the News-Press Tuesday that a swift response at City Hall led to the scheduling of a meeting of all the clergy with City Manager Wyatt Shields next week.

He said that initial responses from City Hall administrators had proven less than helpful. Suggestions, he said, that the churches convert impervious asphalt surfaces into rain gardens, for example, was hardly serious. “Our parking lots are indispensable components of our ministry, to enable our congregations to have access to our services,” he said.

Not arguing for special exemptions, however, his issue with City Hall dealt with the exclusion of churches from the deliberations on establishing the new policy in the first place. He wrote to the City Council, “As I became aware of the implications of the proposed Storm Water Fee on faith-based communities, and particularly that of Dulin Church, I was alarmed to realize that the faith-based community representative slot remained vacant the entire life (since 2009—ed.) of this Watershed Advisory Committee,” adding, “I am disappointed that the City did not deem it worthy to actively recruit someone from the faith-based communities to participate.”

He added that, having read all the minutes of the Watershed Advisory Committee, including when discussions of faith-based communities and non-profits were discussed in the context of whether the revenue generating policy should be by a fee or a tax, “I am very disappointed that as this advisory team met for a period of over three years and seven meetings, not once were faith-communities invited to respond or even dialogue with the City about the proposed fee which will have annual costs in the thousands of dollars for each community.” He said that his church alone will, under the current plan, pay $6,797 annually. “We have had no voice, and that is an injustice,” he said.

Davies said he initially planned a letter to the editor signed by a number of F.C. clergy to be published in this week’s News-Press, until Shields’ office responded with the offer of a meeting early next week.

Davies said that he plans to further his concerns with three other clergy who will be participating with him in a joint Good Friday service this Friday at 2 p.m. in the historic sanctuary at The Falls Church Episcopal.

Meanwhile, the News-Press has learned that some major businesses in the City that require large asphalt surface parking spaces were also not included in the deliberations, and were unaware of the impending new fees they may be required to pay.

While the City Council vote on establishing a fee-based Storm Water Utility was scheduled to be only a preliminary approval last night, the final vote will come before the scheduled adoption of the Council’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget on April 22.

Concerns for the added cost, whether as a fee or tax, has upset a large number of City residents, especially given the burden of providing funding for the explosion in enrollment in the Falls Church School System. The Council is expected to raise the real estate tax rate anywhere from six cents (to $1.33 per $100 of assessed valuation) to 14 cents in the next month.

The Council’s regular business meeting this week was postponed from Monday to Wednesday this week in deference to the celebration of Passover.

  • vseidita

    Dulin is a wonderful church and a major pillar of our community here in Falls Church. Their advocacy for the homeless and other disadvantaged members of our community is without peer. However on a day when inches of rain fall, there is no denying that the river flowing down Berry Street has the large Dulin parking lot as one of its major sources. At the bottom of this particular hill are the wet basements that started this whole costly process. It is unfortunate that no one invited the churches in the past but moving forward they need to be part of the solution. We should not be so quick to dismiss changes to the surface of their parking lot as “hardly serious”. If that water continues to flow down the hill funding will be required to deal with it.

  • MultiKdizzle

    They also failed to invite the log mining community, and the carrot eating community, and the push-ups on Mondays community, and the drivers with a 20 minute commute community, and the gardeners for clean energy community.

    • D_Wayne_Jones

      Thank you for you most highly educated comment. I expect there are plenty of other communities that were overlooked. But now we have heard from the “let’s make a ridiculous comment” community.

  • Mark

    The process appears reasonable, fair and open. The churches have the same access as anyone else. No reason to complain now. Water runoff from impervious services is a serious issue. Since the churches (with their extensive land holdings in the City) do NOT pay taxes but do pay for services (e.g., electricity, water, etc) – this is a very good way for the churches to contribute back to the City. A number of churches have or continue to be on real estate acquisition sprees – this removes taxable land from the rolls AND the churches build large impervious surfaces. The new system of taxation for sewer/water seems very fair and reasonable – and it should be implemented to deal with this serious matter. Of course, homeowners in FCC are burdened by already very high taxes … this water issues highlights how the schools continue to siphon off dollars required for important capital expenditures.

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