A series of community meetings within the past month left Chesterfield County residents with few additional questions about the proposed stormwater utility rate at a public hearing before the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday.
The measure that would help fund the $35 million needed for capital improvement projects required by the federally mandated Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan was mostly praised by the handful of people who addressed the board.
“The Chesapeake Bay is a wonderful asset. We all benefit from it. With a lot of help from the EPA, I hope we are going to contribute with the continued cleanup of the Bay,” said county resident Nancy Finch.
The board is considering billing single-family households $25 annually; businesses would on average be billed $308 each year. An earlier estimate for single-family households was about $24.
The money would support from fiscal 2017 through 2021 the projects that the county must fund itself to cut back on excessive nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment — three major pollutants in most waterways.
Allan Carmody, the county’s budget director, said that the utility was “probably the most active topic” at the recent public meetings.
“We have received a lot of questions on this from the community,” he said.
Finch said she understands that in the years after the 2008-09 recession the time wasn’t right for burdening residents with another annual fee, but in the wake of economic recovery, “everybody in this room has more money now than we did then.”
Fred DeMey, a Matoaca District resident, called the utility fee “just another tax” for residents.
“It’s not a fee; let’s call it what it is,” DeMey told the board.
Chesterfield has identified at least 24 capital improvement projects to be completed by 2024, at a total cost of $54 million, including several stream restorations and other work.
The restoration of the 34,000-acre Falling Creek Water watershed will become a primary focus beginning in 2017. It will cost the county $23 million when completed in 2021.
Joe Wood, staff scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the proposed capital projects are “helpful for the Chesapeake Bay water quality,” but also for local water quality.
“They also prevent erosion and flooding. It’s a proactive approach that will make long-term planning easier and will allow Chesterfield County to grow environmentally and economically,” Wood said.
The board did not vote on the stormwater utility, or on any other budget-related public hearings Wednesday.
DeMey urged the Board to lower the real estate tax which he called “the highest in the area.”
Because of a positive revenue forecast for 2016, the county last month advertised its real estate tax rate at the current level of 96 cents per $100 of assessed value, which bars the board from raising the rate. But many residents will pay more because property values have increased.
DeMey said the various taxes — including the personal property and dog tax — are adding up. He suggested lowering the real estate tax to 95 cents per $100 of assessed value.
“These taxes put a huge burden on households in Chesterfield. Taxes hurt people, and higher tax rates hurt people more. There is more than enough new revenue,” he said.
None of the roughly 100 residents at the public hearing Wednesday commented on the proposed hike of the water and sewer utility.
The county wants to increase the average bimonthly bill for a single-family home from $114 to $120. That’s up $6 per billing cycle, or $3 per month and $36 annually.
“The rate increases are designed to cover expected cost through smaller incremental raises rather than shocking the system,” Carmody said.
The board is set to vote on the county’s $809.9 million general fund budget and the five-year $939 million capital improvement program and related issues on April 13.