Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Flood waters recede

As many folks know already, there was significant worry that the Roanoke River would overflow and cause some flooding in the city with the heavy rains experienced over the last few days. The city's emergency management coordinator was prepared and on top of the situation and very adept at managing crises or potential crises of this nature. We're fortunate to have such a person who has the experience and skill to manage emergency situations of all kinds - natural or man-made.

The good news is that the river waters crested and receded without major damage or destruction. But this possibility reinforces more why the Roanoke River Flood Reduction project is so important to the city and its residents. We're committed to seeing it through and hope the last few days have evidenced why we need to fulfill this significantly completed work.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Stormwater Tax Tabled

Last evening at Roanoke City Council the decision was made to table, as far as I am aware indefinitely, the adoption and implementation of a new stormwater utility fee that would affect residents and commercial property owners.

I believe this was the right policy decision to make. We have to maintain a competitive advantage with our neighbors and not put ourselves in a position where locations outside the city are more attractive for employers to locate than locations within the city. A new tax on properties would serve to do just this.

I was pleased that Council made this decision and hope that it will spur us to work closer with our neighbors to address this and other issues that require regional solutions.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Not the right time for Stormwater Utility

As Roanoke City Council debates whether or not to impose a new stormwater utility tax on residents and commercial property owners in the City, Vice Mayor Sherman Lea and I co-authored an opinion editorial that appeared in today's newspaper arguing against this new utility at this time. To read the piece, please click on the link below or scroll down to read the text:



Stormwater solution deserves reprioritization, not automatic new fees
by Sherman Lea and Court Rosen

The City of Roanoke has one of the highest real estate tax rates in the Commonwealth of Virginia ($1.19 per $100 of assessed value). This is fact – one can visit the Virginia Department of Taxation’s website to confirm it.

Roanoke also has a $60+ million and growing stormwater management problem - which is and should be addressed regionally, the magnitude of which can be seen following steady rains that flood roads, basements and yards. Compounding this water quantity problem, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has passed down strict new water quality standards that our locality must abide by to protect future water quality and to curtail chemical contamination of our waterways.

In response to the new EPA regulations, Roanoke must improve its stormwater infrastructure to ensure compliance. These improvements will cost money. The current proposal, which City Council will soon approve or defeat, charges every residential property a fee of $3 per month, or $36 per year, and businesses $3 per Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU). One ERU is equal to 1,920 square feet of surface. In reality this would be a new tax, but not called a “tax” because certain groups, such as churches, are exempted from taxes whereas everyone must pay a “fee.” This might not seem like a big burden, but coupled with our already high real estate tax rate, businesses/entities like the Airport, Valley View Mall, car dealerships and others will pay fees in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the amount of commercial surface they own in the City.

Proponents of this new fee argue that a new source of revenue to address stormwater management is needed. The point of this piece is not to declare that some sort of fee won’t be, in the end, appropriate or needed. Rather, we wish to share two arguments for defeating the current proposal and using existing capital money to fund the improvements, while at the same time working with our neighboring jurisdictions to address this regional problem in a cooperative and mutually beneficial way.

First, the City of Roanoke, in Fiscal Year 2010, plans to spend more than $66 million on capital improvements projects. Keep in mind that a majority of this money is borrowed, and like any other loan accruing interest, the total repayment obligation will far exceed this principal amount.
Of the $66+ million slated for capital improvements in FY 2010, and this is not a typo, a mere $179,759 is budgeted for existing storm drain/stormwater problems in our City. That’s 0.27% -- just over one-quarter of one percent. The easy way to address our significant stormwater management problems is to add a new fee to residents and businesses, increasing the tax burden on the very same businesses we rely on to provide good paying, quality jobs. The right way to address those needs is to look in the mirror, recognize that there are some capital projects currently planned that are “nice to haves” and not “need to haves,” and to reprioritize our governmental responsibilities.

The second main point as to why the proposed stormwater utility fee is wrong for Roanoke at present is that we’re in the midst of the worst national recession since the Great Depression, and many would argue in the history of our country. The unemployment rate nationally is over 10%, the highest it’s been in more than two decades. And while the Roanoke region’s unemployment rate has fortunately fared better than the national average, further burdening residents, a large portion of whom are on fixed-incomes, and businesses, who employ those residents, is just plain poor timing. Now is the time to support those businesses, encourage them to create more and better jobs, and not add to the burden on property owners of an already high real estate tax rate.

There’s no question that the City of Roanoke has got to address our major stormwater management needs, both by choice and mandate. But the elected body, City Council, must reprioritize where we’re spending your money. Dedicating the necessary resources to make progress in fixing our storm drains throughout the City is about making tough choices, understanding the fundamental responsibilities of government to maintain its infrastructure for its citizens, and making tax/fee increases the very last resort, not the first and default option.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bad Blogger

As the new year begins, I am going to recommit to posting on this blog more often (hopefully a couple of times a week) about issues affecting the City of Roanoke. I have been a bad blogger, there's no question about it, and I am going to work very hard to do better about being more informative to those who read this blog.

Often it's difficult to convey to folks what's happening in the City since news outlets have limited space to cover City issues. I feel as though I have a respnsibility to make sure that I'm sharing as much as possible about current events so that residents are more aware of the decisions that are being made in the City with your money.

I will put up a new post soon and hope you'll visit my blog regularly to stay up to date on current happenings in Roanoke and to provide feedback on those issues.