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New Stormwater Fees for Residents?

Winchester City Council needs to come up with at least $1 million in order to fund federal and state stormwater management mandates due to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.

WINCHESTER, Va.- According to legend, an ordinance to protect Winchester’s streams was first implemented by United States President George Washington when he surveyed the land over 250 years ago.

Today, council members say more funding is necessary in order for Winchester to abide by state mandated stormwater regulations. But they're unsure of how much to charge individuals.

"[Stormwater is] the water that runs off on the ground. Eventually it makes its way into drainage pipes, into swales and ditches and eventually into the streams and rivers,” said Perry Eisenach, director of Winchester Public Utilities.

"The federal and state governments have presented us with a mandate to meet these requirements, and yet they've provided no funds for this service,” said Winchester City Councilman Evan Clark (D). “And that's why we're forced to consider a stormwater utility tax."

That's right, City Council is thinking about adding a fee to residents' monthly bills based on a property's impervious surfaces like roads, sidewalks and parking lots.

“Really the discussion is how are we going to fund it, rather than are we going to do it or not," said Winchester City Council President John Willingham (R).

"One of the options were looking at it is a stormwater utility where we would charge individual single family home properties in the city, a flat rate, per month,” said Eisenach.

It’s a fee that officials say is affordable.

"It would create $2.6 million in revenues, which, for the homeowner was about $10 a month,” said Jeff Buettner (R), another Winchester City Councilman. “The challenge is when you went to the commercial side, some business would be asked to spend between $60,000 to $100,000 a year, in new fees. And to me that's not good business."

But there's a potential loophole. Council is also considering a part of the proposal that would credit back property owners who manage their own stormwater runoff.

Overall, not all council members are convinced that creating an entire new utilities sector is the way to go, and would rather just raise water and sewer taxes instead.

"Right now, I think water and sewer rates probably, for me at least, is probably the better proposal, but I need to understand what the long term effects of that are,” said Willingham.

Council is scheduled to meet two more times with the Public Utilities Department before having a public hearing on the proposed fee in June.

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