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Letter: Arlington's change to stormwater fees gets it wrong

'The whole idea should be flushed down the sewer.'

To the editor: According to the GazetteLeader, the Arlington County government says its new stormwater fees will “result in property owners being more fairly billed for the amount of runoff from their property.” And yup, that’s what the county’s Website says. But it’s not true.

If you drive around our county, you’ll see that the vast majority of the acreage is occupied by homes that are completely surrounded by dirt. Except for rain falling on the edges of driveways and walkways that slope towards the street, rain on these properties ends up in lawns. Some of the water on these permeable surfaces may eventually end up in the stormwater system, but Arlington doesn’t plan to charge anything for that; just for non-permeable surfaces. The non-permeable surfaces associated with the typical residence in Arlington produce little or no more runoff than a completely empty lot.

Where are the non-permeable surfaces that produce runoff? Those in the urban corridors that are not surrounded by dirt, and roads.

The fundamental principle of cost allocation is that cost responsibility follows cost causation. If, as the county government claims, non-permeable surfaces are creating stormwater costs, then land-occupiers in the urban corridors, and the county government as the road-owner, should be assessed the cost of the stormwater system.

Ironically, in producing a more “fair” cost allocation, the county government allocates no costs to one of the (if not the) largest producers of storm runoff: the road-owning county government itself.

We all use the urban corridors and roads in the county, so a fair and practical cost allocation in this situation is to spread the cost the same way all other costs in the county are shared – through the property-tax system. That’s how the county government does it now.

Using total square footage might be another fair allocation method. But the cost-allocation system the county plans to move to is the least fair of all.

To add injury to insult, stormwater costs are currently included in income-tax-deductible property taxes. Under the new fee-based system, Arlington residents who itemize will lose that tax deduction – a completely self-inflicted wound.

The whole idea should be flushed down the sewer.

Gary Morgans, Arlington