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Arlington, VA

Green Funding: Arlington County, VA

 

      “All those who live, work, and visit Arlington County now and in the future will enjoy the benefits of healthy and safe watersheds and all people will take active responsibility for the stewardship of Arlington’s water resources.” ACDES vision statement

 

Retrofitting Arlington County

The majority of Arlington County’s stormwater management funding originates from general funding appropriations. Real property taxes account for 47 percent of the general funding appropriations; therefore property taxes also provide a significant portion of funding to stormwater management programs. The average Arlington homeowner pays roughly $54 in stormwater taxes per year. Due to recent federal and state mandates for localities to maintain certain water quality levels, stormwater management funding is estimated to increase to $5.3 million per year during the 2009 to 2014 fiscal years. The property taxes allocated for general funding appropriations have little correlation to the demands placed on the stormwater system. The lack of correlation between funding allocations and the demands on the stormwater system causes inequitable levels of contribution depending on the each community’s urban landscape and proliferation of tax free organizations. Arlington County has considered multiple options to provide funding for stormwater management that are both feasible and equitable.

a. Stormwater Management Goals

In 2003, the Arlington County Department of Environmental Services (ACDES) recommended the adoption of a goal-oriented program for stormwater services to achieve its vision for the county. The reason ACDES recommended a goal-oriented program was because the Arlington County Watershed Management Plan found that their streams violate state water quality standards. Characteristics of violations include: erosion, bed widening, downcutting, litter, degraded water quality, and poor aquatic and riparian habitat. The Clean Water Act requires streams violating state quality standards to set and achieve the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which is the maximum amount of pollutants that can enter a stream without violating state water quality standards.

Virginia’s state mandate, the Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) permit requires Arlington County create a stormwater management plan that accomplishes the following goals:

  • No discharge of toxics in toxic amounts
  • No discharge of pollutants in quantities that would cause a violation of State Water Quality
  • Standards
  • No discharge of floatable debris, oils, scum, foam, or grease in other than trace amounts.
  • No discharge of non-storm water from the municipal separate storm sewer system.
  • No degradation or loss of State-designated waters as a result of storm water discharges from the municipal separate storm sewer.

The origination of funding to achieve the ambitious goals and mandates Arlington County now abides by comes into question. Is stormwater funding allocations done in an equitable manner?

b. Equity Issues

Arlington County’s reliance on general fund appropriations for stormwater management leaves them vulnerable to criticisms over equity. “Some properties that place demands on the system may be exempt from property taxes…Some private properties, such as parking lots and storage warehouses that have large expanses of impervious coverage, do not pay property taxes commensurate with the demands they impose on the stormwater system.” After recognizing Arlington County’s inequitable allocation of funding for stormwater management in the Stormwater Action Plan, should the county continue business as usual, or experiment with innovate stormwater management funding options?

Goal Oriented Funding Alternatives

In addition to meeting federal and state mandates, the ACDES is dedicated to allocating resources by equitably distributing stormwater program costs to residents and businesses. The following section is a brief overview of stormwater utility fees, a funding option the ACDES recommended; and sanitary district taxes, which is what the Arlington County Board actually implemented, regardless of ACDES recommendations.

a. Stormwater Utility Fees

Common solutions are stormwater service fees or stormwater utility fees. The utility fee is determined by the contribution to stormwater runoff. The state of Virginia supports stormwater utility fees, and passed Code §15.2-2114 to oversee its implementation. Certain criteria include, “charges may be assessed to property owners or to occupants, including condominium unit owners or tenants.” However, certain properties can be exempt, such as cemeteries and private maintenance of stormwater facilities.

b. Sanitary District Tax

Contrary to recommendations and state legislation, the Arlington County Board approved the “sanitary district tax” in 2008 to fund stormwater system improvements. The tax is based on real property values, as opposed to impervious surface calculations. While Arlington County cannot include reductions in impervious surfaces into the tax code by way of the Sanitary District Tax, the county maintains the flexibility to simultaneously encourage beneficial stormwater management practices.

 

 

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