Town mulls stormwater fee changes

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

Residents with the highest stormwater bills could get a reprieve as the town mulls eliminating the stormwater fee’s tier system.

Under the current ordinance, most homes in town are charged $51 a year for one Equivalent Residential Unit, or ERU, based on the average amount of impervious surface on Williston residential properties. The residential properties with the largest amounts of impervious surface—those in the top 10 percent of parcels in Williston—were billed for two ERUs, $102 annually.

The fee is being charged to improve water quality, avoid property damage and comply with state and federal mandates.

The town sent out the first bills in February. With the first cycle, several issues came up. Among the concerns frequently voiced by residents was confusion and displeasure with the town’s two-tiered approach to charging single family homes, according to Stormwater Coordinator James Sherrard.

In some cases, a resident’s long gravel driveway—considered impervious surface—pushed their property into the upper tier, despite a small or average-sized home. Sherrard said the system is sound from a hydrological standpoint, since a gravel road is impervious and does cause runoff, but it is confusing and frustrating homeowners.

In other cases, a property owner had granted a right of way for a neighbor’s driveway across his or her property. Since the driveway is still on his or her property, it counts toward the impervious surface.

Another issue is that the system is based on a sliding scale—the top 10 percent—rather than a hard figure. That means that a homeowner could get pushed into the second tier despite making no changes to his or her property.

In a memo to the Selectboard, Sherrard recommended that the two-tiered approach be eliminated to avoid the inconsistencies and considerable staff time it takes to deal with issues that have arisen, as well as to determine which properties fall into the top tier.

If the two-tiered system was ended, the town would lose approximately $12,000 in revenue—1.5 percent of the total amount raised through the fee.

If the board opts against eliminating the two-tiered system, Sherrard suggested that it set a hard amount of impervious surface on properties for the second tier, rather than use the sliding scale. For example, any property with more than 9,500 square feet of impervious surface would be in the second tier.

The Selectboard on Monday voted 4-1 to set a public hearing regarding the proposed elimination of the two-tiered approach. Jeff Fehrs, who said he is opposed to eliminating the approach and would prefer to see it clarified, voted against setting the hearing.

The hearing is set for May 4 at 8 p.m.