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Storm Water Bill? Plan Could Have Generated Millions


A committee appointed by Mayor L. Douglas Wilder last year recommended creating a storm water utility fund by tacking on a fee to real estate bills, or utility bills, of Richmond residents.

Such a fund would have allowed the city to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars on an annual basis to pay for infrastructure improvements to the city's ailing storm water and sewer system.

But the plan was shelved until 2009. Tacking on new fees to residents' bills was seen as politically untenable in the fall of 2005, so the committee was informed that Mayor Wilder was putting the plan on the back burner late last year.

"What happened was the gas prices went through the roof and this was put on hold," says City Councilwoman Kathy Graziano, who served on the Stormwater Utility Steering Committee.

There were other issues, too, such as the fee itself — for most residents, between $4 and $8 a month. But for larger commercial properties, the figure would multiply according to square footage of buildings and adjoining parking lots.

Richmond officials are facing a price tag of more than $19 million to rehabilitate the nearly 100-year-old sewer pipe that has left hundreds of property owners in Battery Park under water in past weeks. While the steering committee was mostly concerned with finding a financing tool to address drainage problems in Shockoe Bottom, priorities could have been shifted to Battery Park.

The program could be implemented sooner at Wilder's directive, says Graziano, who adds it would also need to include "a lot of citizen participation."

One of the key issues the committee addressed was whether to ask nonprofit entities such as churches to pay the utility fee. Based on various scenarios, the storm water fees could have generated between $4.5 million and $17.6 million a year, which could have allowed the city to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars for capital improvements without tapping the general fund. S

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