Stormwater-Tax Vote Tabled Until the Spring


(Sunday, December 16, 2007 11:00 AM EST)

Faced with mounting criticism, not so much over what they wanted to do but how they planned to do it, county government officials on Dec. 15 put the brakes on plans for a new stormwater tax district.

County Board members opted to delay until March, at the earliest, consideration of the proposal, which was sprung without warning after midnight at a late November board meeting.

That proposal, made by County Manager Ron Carlee, would have added an overlay taxing district that affected every residential and commercial property in the county. The millions raised from the tax surcharge (Carlee proposed 1.4 cents per $100 assessed value) would be used to upgrade the county's aging stormwater infrastructure.

That the stormwater facilities are in need of help has been known for years, and was shown with clarity in June 2006, when heavy rains overwhelmed the system and sent water backing up into homes throughout Arlington.

What irked civic activists was the sneaky nature in which county officials went about the proposal. Hidden from view of both the public and advisory bodies until the last minute, it caused howls of derision and led the Arlington County Civic Federation to approve an emergency measure against the plan.

At the Dec. 15 County Board meeting, Civic Federation president Larry Mayer said the decision to delay a vote is “the right process to move forward with.”

“For those who did not think they had adequate notice” about the tax, Carlee suggested that the board “provide a clear public notification” that it's intent is to consider use of the sanitary district for funding stormwater.

But not everyone was satisfied with the revisions.

“This is only a temporary reprieve for Arlington taxpayers,” said fiscal watchdog Wayne Kubicki. “I'm afraid the same proposal will be passed in the spring.”

Activist Robert Atkins told County Board members, “you don't need an additional source of revenue,” and advised that the board drop the proposal completely.

Carlee acknowledged that there were other possible sources of revenue such as a stormwater utility fee, but still leaned toward a special tax overlay district.

Regardless of the timing of a vote on the new tax, the net effect on homeowners likely will be the same, as real estate taxes adopted by the County Board each spring are retroactive to the first of the year.

If County Board members adopt the 1.4-cent rate, the average homeowner will pay about $75 per year more in real estate taxes next year.

For the county government, creating a special tax district has the benefit of not having to split the funds with the school system under the existing revenue-sharing agreement.

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