So You Implemented a Stormwater Utility During a Pandemic…?

Many of Virginia’s regulated MS4s face ongoing challenges with compliance targets, including the upcoming 2023 and 2028 Chesapeake Bay TMDL implementation schedule.  Along with other MS4-based programming, communities are also seeing additional challenges emerge for drainage improvements and other infrastructure-based needs that transcend regulatory compliance and get more to community service delivery expectations.  As rainfall patterns continue to change in the mid-Atlantic region, some of these drainage and flood mitigation needs have begun to overshadow even the high-profile Chesapeake Bay cleanup mandates that have served as consistent municipal stormwater program drivers for the last 10 years.

The City of Fairfax, Virginia found itself evaluating just such a dynamic – rising infrastructure needs and maintenance costs, ongoing compliance programming requiring capital investments and increased maintenance, and a local drainage service need increasing based on changing weather patterns.  In 2019, the City decided to conduct a stormwater utility (SWU) feasibility study to determine whether a SWU would provide a more stable, equitable, and flexible funding source for stormwater services.  The City’s initial findings indeed found that replacing the current Storm Fund real estate tax set aside with a SWU would be preferrable.  However, during the completion of the feasibility study, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and reshaped the dynamic of the decision.

This paper will explore the City’s process for SWU development and ultimately passing the SWU ordinance during the COVID 19 pandemic.  The authors will present the key decision points evaluated by the City and the strategies and tactics utilized to successfully implement the SWU ordinance and prepare the City for a conversion to SWU funding in 2022.