Victoria offers tips ahead of 2014 stormwater bills

There’s no stopping the rain, but Victoria hopes to help you manage it better.

Homeowners won’t get their first stormwater utility bills from the City of Victoria until next September but in the meantime, using videos, open houses, media releases, a phone hotline and even a stormwater garden gnome, the city is about to launch a program to explain the ins and outs of rainwater management.

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Essentially, the more you can do to slow the rate of runoff from your property into city storm drains, the better.

That means if you use a rain barrel or have a rain garden or a green roof, your stormwater utility bill can be reduced. Thinking of repaving your driveway? You might want to look at a permeable paving system.

“The 20th-century response to rainwater was to put pipes underground. The 21st-century response is to put gardens [to absorb the water] above ground. So I welcome the 21st century,” said Coun. Lisa Helps.

City staff maintain the switch to utility bill from property taxes to pay for stormwater management will be cost neutral. In 2014, the portion of property taxes ($4.5 million) the city used to fund stormwater services will be removed from the tax bill. Instead, the stormwater system will be funded through a separate stormwater utility, and property owners will be billed directly. (A portion of the stormwater fees relating to city-owned roads and rights of way will remain within the property tax bill).

According to a staff report, stormwater utility rates will be based on two components: stormwater quantity and quality.

Quantity is the biggest factor and is determined by the amount of non-permeable surfaces, such as rooftops and pavement on each property. (Non-permeable surfaces prevent rainwater from being absorbed into the earth and instead send more water into the stormwater system).

Street cleaning could contribute to stormwater quality. Areas where it is more intensive would be charged lower rates.

The amount of non-permeable surfaces on properties was determined using geographic information system technology, aerial photography and building plans.

Classes of properties are divided into four tiers: Tier A is single-family residential, B is condominiums and apartments, C civic/institutional and D commercial industrial.

The financial impact of the change varies. Among single-family homes in Tier A, 43 per cent of owners are expected to see a reduction averaging $28 a year, while 39 per cent will see a one-year increase of less than $50. In Tier B, about 20 per cent of condominium and apartment owners will likely see a reduction averaging $1,440, while about 22 per cent will see an increase of less than $100 in a year.

Among civic/institutional properties in Tier C, about 69 per cent will see an increase of less than $500, while 50 per cent of commercial industrial properties in Tier D will see bills go up less than $500.

Properties currently receiving permissive tax exemptions, such as social services, places of worship, supportive housing and educational properties, will not be exempt from the stormwater utility fees which are to be phased in over the next three years.

The average charge in all categories will be $350 in 2014; $800 in 2015 and $1,250 in 2016 when the full charge is levied.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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