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Harrisonburg continues working to educate and inform its citizenry about polluted runoff, stormwater runoff, stormwater management, regulations, and the responsibility that is shared by the entire community. We want to know, what do you want to know about this topic?

More information about this is available online

15 Virginia communities and more than 2,000 communitiies nationwide have a stormwater utility fee in effect. They found that a stormwater utility is most equitable because all property owners are charged a fee and the fee is based on contributions to stormwater and polluted runoff. In an effort to better educate the Harrisonburg community, we want to know what you need to know. What questions do you have for the city regarding its proposal to establish a stormwater utility fee?

14 Responses

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Nathan Shaw about 5 years ago

Can you provide more information on the proposed fee and how it will be structured? Also, will there be discounts given to those residents who try to reduce their runoff? If so, how will those be structured?

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Robert Williams about 5 years ago

comment...How will the fee be assessed? Size of property? More for a commercial property with more paved area? A gas station that has vehicles stopping and dripping vehicle fluids and spilling gas which runs off? More for fast food facilities which generate more trash that runs off into waterways? Less for a property that has a storm water retention pond? One that fills and then lets the water soak, instead of a full pond that just slows the water runoff. Less for hilly slopes that 'terrace' the land or have mounds that slow the water runoff.

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Elaine T Blakey about 5 years ago

Would appreciate more info on the process of assessing a fee to residents within the city for runoff. Does this apply to all residents or just those in low lying areas where water would gather and/or possibly run off in an area not intended to accept runoff? The more info supplied by the city governing bodies and gathered by me, the more informed I will be as property owner within the city. This surely will make my input more valuable to whomever.

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Shannon Huffman about 5 years ago

I am absolutely, 100% opposed to you as a city wanting to charge me, a taxpayer and homeowner, an additional fee for storm water runoff. This is unacceptable. I WILL NOT pay it. The city has already raised personal property taxes and real estate taxes this year. Another fee is unacceptable. Yes, I understand the differences in these taxes and where they funds go, but my paycheck has not increased in years and yet taxes and fees continue to rise. Where do you think I will get this additional funding? I already work two jobs. How dare you want to assess a fee to me, a landowner, for storm water runoff. Storm water is just that…water from storms. I will be penalized for when it rains? Where is the logic in that? I cannot control the weather! I live in a townhouse with more grass yard than pavement. I have little to no runoff. Why would I pay a fee? Route 33 west is adjacent to my front yard, and I share a driveway with numerous other townhouses. Very little pavement is on MY property. And yet you want to charge me a fee? I do not pollute, I do not litter, I utilize a rain barrel and yet I must be penalized for rain? UNACCEPTABLE! More citizens should be outraged at this ridiculousness. I realize there are costs passed down from Richmond and the EPA. However, as a city, we should fight insane government agencies instead of penalizing me for owning a home. Again, I WILL NOT pay such a fee. WILL NOT. I urge you to reject such an action.

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Peaceful Yard almost 5 years ago

Dear Shannon, the Harrisonburg Public Works reply to your concern is misleading. They write: "In an effort to protect our local waterways from polluted runoff, the Stormwater Advisory Committee and the City are proposing the stormwater utility fee." This is not true. The truth is that the stormwater utility fee is how the city is collecting the fee that the city is being charged by the state, and the SWAC is balancing concerns like yours with the desire of businesses to minimize the share they have to pay. The utility fee is a way to pay a fee being charged by the state, not an effort to protect our local waterways. This is made starkly clear at time marker 20:15 in the following webinar by a representative of the USGS, the sole earth science agency for the US Department of the Interior, charged with providing impartial information on the health of the nation's ecosystems and environment, among other things: http://t.co/22XWLkR5LA there you will hear that the BMP's and retention basins on which the city will be spending your money will become full of PAH contamination which will lead perhaps to an even bigger bill to you when the state or federal government inevitably fines us to clean that up.

Minnesotta was smart, saw that coming, and banned the PAH source as soon as the science was available. Washington DC and others have done the same.

Here is how this could have gone if the city was serious about protecting stream health: nearly a decade ago the Department of Community Development aggressively blocked a citizen effort to implement bio-retention (of which bioswales and rain gardens are examples) on property within the city. This and restriction on cosmetic lawn chemicals could have made a substantial impact on measured pollutants. At the same time there was resistance from Public Works to anything that was not automobile centered. A different approach to roads, public transportation, pedestrians and cycling, and consequently parking lots could have had a substantial effect on impervious surfaces. Those attitudes are written into ordinances, zoning requirements, and the landscape of the city for with which we are now paying.

Eventually, the harms were so great that well-off voters in the Bay who have the luxury to both appreciate and act on such things were able to force action at the state legislature level. Nonetheless, the regulations that were passed were a compromise. Instead of directly protecting waterways by reducing measured pollutants, we are required to take measures that yield profits to contractors for building engineered solutions that on average, according to models, should satisfy the voter demand to reduce pollution.

If the city is serious about stream health, they will stop forcing people to tend their lawns in polluting ways. If they are interested in 'fiduciary responsibility' they will take steps to prevent their retention basins from filling up with PAH pollution that will require even more transfer of money from tax payers to contractors to clean up in the future, as coal tar sealant becomes recognized as the next asbestos and lead based paint. These steps make a real difference in human and watershed health, cost tax payers nothing, and save substantial future cost. I know that at least since 2012 staff and council have been politely, persistently, authoritatively, and eventually aggressively and confrontationally been made aware of this. What is the real agenda here?

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Shannon Huffman about 5 years ago

Oh, and will the city pay the fees as well for all the city land it owns and for all streets in the city? THAT is where runoff occurs!

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Thanh Dang admin about 5 years ago

Thank you all for your comments and questions.

Water from rain and melting snow that runs across our land can pick up many natural and manufactured substances that can pollute our local waterways, and make it unsafe to swim in or adversely affect plants and wildlife. Examples of common pollutants include fertilizer, detergent, pesticide, pet waste, sediment, oil, salt, trace metals, grass clippings, leaves, and litter.

In an effort to protect our local waterways from polluted runoff, the Stormwater Advisory Committee and the City are proposing the stormwater utility fee. The fee would charge property owners each year a dollar amount ($xx) for every 500 square feet of impervious surface (e.g. rooftops, driveways, sidewalks) that is within a property. Many communities in Virginia (e.g. Lynchburg, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Richmond, etc.) have structured their programs similarly.

The proposed dollar amount will be presented to City Council on November 11, 2014, and staff will be available at the Public Input Meetings on November 12 and December 2 to answer questions. A formal public comment period to review the proposed ordinance, policies and procedures, and to submit written comments to the City will be open between November 12 and mid-December.

The City will be offering “utility fee credits” (a.k.a. discounts, reduced fees) to property owners who install stormwater management practices (such as rain barrels, pervious pavers, detention ponds, bioretention, rain gardens, etc.) on their property. City staff is currently developing a guidance manual, and it will be available for the public to review and provide comments beginning November 12.

An overview of the proposed stormwater utility fee was presented to City Council on September 23. You can find a link to the video and the powerpoint slides here, http://www.harrisonburgva.gov/stormwater-utility.

Please continue to let us know what questions you have about the proposed stormwater utility fee.

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Mark Klosinski almost 5 years ago

As far as I can tell, my property does not contribute to the stormwater system. The closest corner to a storm water inlet is 480 feet. Only one of my roof drains day lights. The other three might be tied into the septic system. How will my TAX be evaluated to reflect my actual contribution to the Chesapeake Bay?

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Thanh Dang admin almost 5 years ago

Mark, Thank you for your comment. The proposed Stormwater Utility Fee is assessed on all property within the city that have impervious surfaces. An impervious surface being any hard surface that water cannot soak into; this can include driveways, walkways, building rooftops, and patios. A hard surfaced patio prohibits rainwater from soaking into the ground beneath it, and may run into the adjacent grassy areas. However, the collective amount of everyone’s hard surfaces, including runoff from the streets that we all use, causes our grassy areas and ground to become saturated, resulting in areas downhill where water cannot soak into the ground, resulting in runoff. Too much runoff can cause flooding and erosion downstream. Runoff across hard surfaces can also pick up pollutants and carry them into waterways.

The City and Stormwater Advisory Committee are proposing that properties be assessed a fee of $10.50 for every 500 square feet of impervious surface. The fees collected will be used for the following activities:

• Development of a city-wide Stormwater Improvement and Polluted Runoff Reduction Plan to identify, select, and prioritize capital projects to manage stormwater, reduce pollution, and protect our drinking water sources. • Design and construction of stormwater capital projects, including retrofits and community greening projects to reduce pollution and improve water quality. This includes projects on city owned properties and partnerships (such as grants or cost-share) with private property owners. • Coordination of pollution reduction efforts including staff training, pollution prevention and good housekeeping practices for municipal operations, pollution detection and elimination program, and public education and outreach. • Maintenance and operation of city-owned stormwater drainage and stormwater management facilities. To learn more about the proposed Stormwater Utility Fee and what you can do to reduce your fee, we encourage you to visit http://www.harrisonburgva.gov/stormwater-utility.

As for the roof drains at your home. If your roof drains tie into your septic system, you could be overburdening your septic system and drain field area. Excess water also slows down or stops the wastewater treatment process. Septic systems are designed to treat only the wastewater generated from within the building. Additionally, if you haven’t done so already, we encourage you to inquire with the City’s Department of Public Utilities on how to connect your home to the city’s sanitary sewer system.

The City is also proposing offer a stormwater utility fee credit (fee reduction) for roof top drain disconnects. You can learn more about that and other practices eligible for credits in the draft Stormwater Utility Fee Credit Manual for Residents available on the Stormwater Utility webpage.

Thank you for your interest.

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Mark Klosinski almost 5 years ago

So would the city hook me up to the sanitary sewer system for no cost? My septic system works just fine and as far as I can tell the system works fine with the roof drains tied in.

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Rob Alexander almost 5 years ago

I think that the proposed plan is innovative and more equitable than a top-down regulatory approach where we all pay a flat fee, regardless of how much we may or may not contribute to the stormwater runoff problem. I also like the incentive program that decentralizes improvements. I would much rather see the City come into compliance with clean water regulations by property owners making choices about their land use vs. direct government intervention telling property owners what to do. Stormwater infrastructure in Harrisonburg is old and breaking down and needs to be fixed. This seems to be an effective, equitable, conservative way of doing it.

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Donna Davis almost 5 years ago

I agree that we should not be assessed any more fees. I have no other source of income from which to draw, and taxes are already too high. Higher taxes and the assessment of more is indicative of the deeper problem, which is overspending! It is arrogant for the city to take more from its citizenry who can barely afford to live here. NO MORE TAXES, STOP THE SPENDING or you will force residents to move to the county.

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Donna Davis almost 5 years ago

The arrogance comes when you keep taking from us to build your little monuments to yourselves in things like the new municipal building, the proposed conference center and this storm water tax fiasco.

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Peaceful Yard almost 5 years ago

Donna, I sympathize with your feeling and would like to let you know that in the summer of 2012, the city took a step that went counter to what the state now mandates it to do with respect to storm water runoff while costing average homeowners as much as $300.00 per year (the storm water fee for the same is only about $60.00 per year): the city made 16-6-58, the ordinance on tall grass and weeds, stricter and enforceable over a longer period. Measured data indicates that this could have added as much as $300 per year in increased mowing costs to average home owners while forcing them to maintain their lawns at a shorter than optimal height, as indicated by their preferred max height at curb the week prior to the new ordinance being enacted compared to that at the same time in the growing season one and two years later. The shorter height directly contributes to more runoff, indirectly contributes to more pollution load because of greater fertilizer and pesticide needed to maintain an overly short lawn, and indirectly discourages the very credit options that the city says we can take advantage of, such as bio-retention--an example of which is rain gardens. I hope you might continue to direct your justified anger toward changing city policies so that residents who by and large struggle to get by can have the most flexibility in solving local problems while protecting the natural environment which is one of the key things that compensates our quality of life for living in this low income region.

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