By Stephanie Choate
With the clock ticking on state and federally mandated stormwater upgrades, the town is hammering out a way to raise the funds needed for the work.
The Selectboard on Monday dug into a draft ordinance for establishing a stormwater user fee, which would be used to fund the town’s stormwater management efforts. If approved, the fee would go into effect Jan. 1, 2015.
As part of a national and statewide effort to address water pollution from runoff, as well as avoid flooding, Williston must comply with newly reissued stormwater guidelines.
Stormwater is rainfall or snowmelt that runs off impervious surfaces, such as roofs, paved or gravel roads, driveways and parking lots. As it does so, it carries sediment and other pollutants, such as oil or grease, into streams. The extra water can also overwhelm small streams, causing flooding and erosion. Williston’s Allen Brook is on the state’s list of waterways impaired by stormwater.
Town Manager Rick McGuire estimates that the town will need to spend a total of $6 million to bring the town’s stormwater systems up to date. Approximately $2 million of that is required for townwide capital projects and administrative costs to develop a plan to control polluted runoff into waterways, then implement that plan within 20 years. Williston also has 31 holders of expired stormwater discharge permits—26 of which are housing or commercial developments, two are schools, two are VTrans properties and one is the town—which will need to spend an estimated $4 million to bring their systems into compliance, though McGuire said the town is working on ways to help those permit-holders.
The fee would be based on Equivalent Residential Units, or ERUs, which is the median area of impervious surface of single-family residences in town. Undeveloped properties—those with less than 500 square feet of impervious surface—would be exempt.
For the most part, a single-family home would equate to one ERU. Fees for non-single family residences would be based on the amount of impervious surface on the property.
The draft ordinance also proposed a user fee credit system based on a dense-sounding but as yet undeveloped Stormwater User Fee Credit Manual. Credits could be awarded for significant stormwater systems, facilities, activities and services, though credits would not be available for single-family residences.
Director of Public Works Bruce Hoar told the Selectboard the ordinance, credit system and other aspects are based on stormwater utilities across the nation that have been tried and tested.
The board has already accepted the concept of a fee, but has not officially adopted one. The other way to pay for the upgrades would be through property taxes.
Hoar told the Selectboard that commercial properties—which typically have larger amounts of impervious surface than residential properties—would pay less if the board goes with a tax-based funding approach. In addition, there are more than 60 non-town-owned properties that are exempt from property taxes.
That means more of the burden would be shouldered by residential properties, Hoar said.
The average homeowner would pay slightly less with a fee, compared to property taxes.
The draft ordinance has not yet been reviewed by the town’s legal counsel. Staff will bring the draft back to the Selectboard during its next meeting, scheduled for March 24.
Residents with questions should contact the Public Works Department at 878-1239.