Stormwater Fee Causes Rumble in Woodfin - TribPapers

Stormwater Fee Causes Rumble in Woodfin

Photo by Erda Estremera.

Woodfin – According to some Woodfin residents and business owners, a recent new fee, which some would call a tax, by their local government has caught them by surprise even after notices and a public hearing. The stormwater fee has left those living and who own businesses in Woodfin in sticker shock.

One business owner reported a fee of about $2,000 annually, a fee that will surely get passed on to the customers. While one retired resident of Woodfin told the Tribune they received a fee of $100 for their home.

What is This Stormwater Tax/Fee

The stormwater tax, or fee, is a story that begins with the growing awareness of the environmental and infrastructural challenges associated with stormwater management. This tax has evolved as a response to the need for funding to mitigate stormwater runoff’s effects and meet federal and state unfunded mandates on local towns and cities.

Historically, stormwater runoff was viewed as a nuisance to be directed away from urban areas as quickly as possible. Paved surfaces in cities led to increased runoff, which, in turn, contributed to flooding and erosion. The stormwater carries pollutants from streets and urban areas into local water bodies, leading to water quality issues.

The United States began enacting environmental regulations, such as the Clean Water Act, in 1972, which required municipalities to manage stormwater and reduce its adverse effects on local water bodies.

In response to these regulations, many communities began implementing stormwater management programs that focused on improving water quality, reducing erosion, and conserving water resources. These programs often required substantial investments in infrastructure, including the construction of stormwater retention basins, green infrastructure projects, and sewer system upgrades.

Recognizing the need for a dedicated funding source for stormwater management, many local governments introduced the stormwater tax. This fee is typically based on the amount of impervious surface on a property, as properties with more paved or impervious surfaces generate more runoff and, therefore, contribute more to the stormwater management problem.

The implementation of stormwater taxes or fees has not been without controversy, and Woodfin is no exception. Critics argue that it is an additional financial burden on property owners and that the fee structures may not always be equitable. The fairness of the tax often depends on how it is calculated and whether it takes into account a property’s contribution to stormwater runoff.

Woodfin Response to Backlash Over Stormwater Fee

Questions asked of Shannon Tuch, Woodfin Town Manager, about the new stormwater fees were quickly answered. When asked how much revenue will be raised from this tax? “If all goes as we hope, we should collect approximately $390,000, which is the estimated cost of the stormwater program,” Tuch told the Tribune.

Asked where the money would be spent. Tuch said, “The stormwater program operates as an enterprise fund, and fees collected may only be used to fund the stormwater program. The state requires that the program include infrastructure maintenance and repair, enforcement, permitting, and education. We can also use the revenue for new stormwater capital projects.”

Asked if there had been any complaints from residents or business owners since sending out the bills, she said, “We have received a number of calls about the new fee. I think it is fair to characterize some of those calls and emails as complaints, but a good number simply had questions. Almost all of our admin staff have been fielding these calls and emails, so I wouldn’t be able to put a number on how many we received, but I don’t think it is anything more than we expected.”

Tuch added, “We understand that no one likes a new fee, and we have done our best to find the most fair and equitable way to address the state’s requirements while minimizing the impact on our residents.”

Candidate, Residents Sound Off About Fee

So far, one candidate for Woodfdin’s council has brought up the new fee. Josh Blade has made the repeal of the fee an issue in his campaign. He also wrote about it in a letter to the editor last week.

“We also want to keep the tax burden low for community residents. The current town council voted to pass the new Woodfin stormwater fee on to its residents when there were other alternatives to help share the burden. A lot of landowners are complaining they are being overcharged; the Town of Woodfin doesn’t even know how much it is going to cost to fix these things; they don’t own or have to maintain some of the drains because they are owned by the state; and there are ways that Woodfin could have paid for this in the budget,” said Blade in his letter.

He went on to say, “The council has known about the stormwater problem for a long time. They even commissioned an inventory of all their stormwater drains in 2021. They have had plenty of chances to pay for this, including when they received $2.14 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“In 2022, they received half the money and used it for government services so they could save general fund money to use on other things. As far as I know, they still have close to another $1 million coming if they haven’t received it already. Instead of using any of the above funds, they decided to put the stormwater burden on the residents at a time of financial hardship.”

He ended his letter with, “I will fight to repeal the stormwater fees and help resolve your problems in creative and sustainable ways.”

In a Tribune post on Facebook to the article “Are North Buncombe Town’s Becoming More Like Asheville?” Rick Roberson wrote of the stormwater fee, “I truly hope the people of Woodfin will wake up before it’s too late. I can’t find any prior warning or explanation of the storm tax until the bill was received. This is the way Asheville developed into the quagmire it is today. Examine each of the council members for their background, previous political involvement, and, most importantly, their commitment to the good people who have occupied Woodfin for years. Do yourself a big favor and Google the Woodfin stormwater fee. At least half are currently taken care of by Woodfin and the others are fluff. I have seen absolutely no mention of construction or maintenance plans for stormwater. This fee is one of many quietly imposed acts of ‘Ashevillization’.”

On the same post, Jim Fox wrote, “No, Woodfin residents don’t want what Asheville has. For example, THE NEW RAIN TAX SECRETLY IMPOSED ON US!”