Friday, September 19, 2014

Council takes on hard issues

Liberty University is still on track to receive its own polling location, following approval by the City Council during an open hearing Oct. 25.

The redistricting changes must be approved by the federal government, but the polling location should be in place for spring elections. Only students who are registered as living on campus will be able to vote at the Vines Center. No one opposed the changes during the hearing, and the plans passed the council without debate.

A more contentious matter was the proposed stormwater fee to meet strict new EPA and state regulations. Regulations state that stormwater runoff from parking lots and other “impervious areas” increases river pollution and leads to environmental problems in the Chesapeake Bay.

The city is proposing the fee be included with landowners’ water bills starting July 2012. While the fee is mandatory because of federal regulations, debate centered on the fee amount, how the money would be used and whether it ought to be sent to landowners or tenants.

Several Lynchburg residents voiced support or dissent with the fee, and the City Council debated the issue for nearly two hours.

“We have a $120 million bill looking at us possibly, and a lot of it is unknown,” Councilmember Jeff Helgeson said. “$120 million to the little City of Lynchburg — 50 square miles. Just think, $120 million for 50 square miles. You extrapolate that out over all the square miles across the country — wow, it’s hard to even fathom how much money that is.”

Councilmembers voiced frustration with the federal regulations in particular. Turner Perrow Jr., a professional civil engineer, argued that the EPA’s computer model used as the basis for the regulations is critically flawed “at the micro level” where it pertains to individual cities.

“This is a mandate and we have to comply with it, but I’m going to comply kicking and screaming,” he said.

Current fee amounts proposed by the city would be $4 for average-sized houses, but the amount would fluctuate based on lot size. Zones with large amounts of “impervious area” like Liberty University would have to pay $.15 per 100 square feet, which could amount to more than $200,000 per year from the University’s budget. Retail and grocery stores will also have to pay huge fees that will likely be passed on their customers in the form of higher prices.

Helgeson suggested the Council table the measure until Dec. 13. Certain changes to the bill were recommended, and the city manager was asked to return with two versions to vote on in December.

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