Questions and Answers
Federal and state regulations require the Town of St. Albans to address the amount of stormwater runoff that is impairing local streams and Lake Champlain. These regulations require the Town to obtain a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and to create a comprehensive program to seek out and eliminate, to the maximum extent practical, pollutants carried by stormwater runoff. In order to achieve these goals, it was determined that implementing a separate utility would be the most cost- effective approach.
How will the stormwater billing process work?
Each parcel within the Town limits will be charged a stormwater user fee based on the classifications within the stormwater utility ordinance. The annual fee will be sent in a utility bill in mid-July. The bill will be separate from the annual property tax bill.
How was the stormwater utility fee determined?
A stormwater utility fee is similar to a water or sewer utility fee. In essence, customers pay a fee to convey stormwater from their properties. Similar to other utilities, the fee is based on usage, in this case it is based on the amount of impervious area (measured in square feet) on a parcel. The amount of impervious surfaces on parcels within the town limits was determined using GIS and satellite imagery. The Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) was then calculated by finding the average amount of impervious surfaces per single family home. In the Town of St. Albans, the ERU was determined to be 3,500 sf. The annual utility rate of $50 per ERU was set by the Town of St. Albans Selectboard on May 17, 2021. The town will review impervious surfaces and re-quantify the ERU as additional data is generated (typically every five years). Properties that are not listed as Residential will pay an annual fee based on the amount (sf) of impervious surfaces on their parcel. If you have questions regarding your determination, please contact the Stormwater Coordinator.
What are the benefits of a utility?
The Stormwater Utility will:
- Maintain the town’s compliance with the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit and other Federal and State water quality regulations.
- Maintain, inspect, and improve the town’s stormwater drainage infrastructure including storm drains, stormwater pipes, and culverts.
- Maintain the Town’s stormwater treatment practices. Treatment practices commonly include stormwater detention ponds, bioretention treatment systems, gravel wetlands, and similar infrastructure.
- Fund stormwater capital improvement projects with the goal of improving water quality and complying with Federal and State permit requirements. The utility will actively apply for water quality grants to compliment the funds generated by the utility and leverage a greater amount of implementation.
- Conduct the long term and strategic planning required by environmental regulations like the Lake Champlain Phosphorus TMDL and the Stormwater Impaired Stream TMDL determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and State of Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VT DEC).
- Provide technical assistance to St. Albans property owners who want to bring their stormwater system up to current standards. Many properties have a stormwater permit associated with the parcel. A valid stormwater permit is part of the value of your home and property.
A stormwater credit will be granted to eligible non-single family residences (commercial properties), known as NSFRs. The stormwater credit is an on-going reduction in the stormwater fee related to activities or practices that reduce the stormwater impact to the greater public stormwater system. Credits are available for up to 50% of the total annual stormwater fee for a property. It is the responsibility of the property owner to apply for the Stormwater Credit. Link to Credit Manual
Is the stormwater utility fee legal?
Stormwater utility fees are legal. Stormwater fees are necessary to maintain the public stormwater system and represent an equitable way for the community to share the cost of a public service. Stormwater utility fees are becoming more and more common throughout the country and are legislated by Congress, mandated by the EPA, enforced through the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).
Who pays the stormwater utility fee?
Property parcels within the corporate Town limits will pay the stormwater utility fee.
How does the Town currently pay for its stormwater services?
The money currently comes from the Town’s general fund budget. The general fund budget is made up of revenues derived from property and sales taxes that are collected by the Town. Stormwater competes for general fund revenue alongside police, fire, streets, parks, etc. The Stormwater Utility creates a dedicated revenue stream and the stormwater user fee provides a reliable and fair method for collecting revenue in order to allow the Town to provide increased and improved stormwater management services.
Why do we need to spend more for stormwater?
Although the Town has done a good job providing stormwater services on a very limited budget, the backlog of stormwater projects has grown and additional maintenance activities are required. Local, state, and federal laws also require that municipalities address the environmental impacts of stormwater pollution, but do not provide the funds to do it.
How often will the stormwater user fee be updated?
The fee is set by ordinance as adopted by the Town’s Selectboard. The budget, expenditures, and revenues for the stormwater utility fund will be examined on an annual basis in accordance with the budget process for the Town. The actual calculations performed to determine the amount of impervious on a given parcel will be reviewed any time a User Fee Credit modification request is made, an appeal is filed, or as new data (such as satellite imagery or statewide base cover calculations) is issued.
Will the creation of a stormwater utility result in a reduction of my property taxes?
No. Historically, only a small amount of general fund revenues have been allocated to stormwater management activities. These limited dollars will simply be absorbed into other expanding programs such as Parks, Fire and Police Departments.
Why is this a stormwater fee and not a property tax increase?
Property taxes are based only on the assessed market value of a property without taking into consideration the contribution of stormwater runoff from a property. Charges derived from property values are not fairly and equitably allocated to stormwater services. A stormwater user fee is charged based upon the contribution of stormwater runoff to the Town’s stormwater management system. This is a more fair and equitable approach.
Where will our money go for stormwater projects?
Money gathered through the stormwater utility fee will go towards stormwater project management which includes drainage studies, project implementation, equipment purchase and maintenance, staffing, regulatory compliance, and more.
I am renting an apartment or house. Do I have to pay this charge?
Multi-tenant residential properties will be billed based on the amount of impervious surface on the parcel. Properties that receive an individual tax bill will receive an individual stormwater fee for the footprint parcel that is taxed. In addition, the overall parcel will receive a fee that the Home Owner Association may determine to divide among the residents (shared impervious such as parking lots, carports, private roads, etc.).
Individuals or businesses which rent property will receive billing for the stormwater user fee if the tax bill is in the renter’s name. Property owners are obligated to pay stormwater user fees. It will be up to the individual property owner and the renter to decide how to handle the assessed fee.
Why are churches, hospitals and schools being billed?
Churches, hospitals and schools, impact stormwater utility systems just like commercial and industrial sites. Providing for and addressing stormwater is a public service provided for by the Town of St. Albans. All buildings contain impervious surfaces (a surface which prevents water from being infiltrated). Impervious surfaces on the parcels of churches, hospitals and schools also place a demand on the stormwater system. Stormwater runoff generated by any property must be controlled and conveyed once it leaves the property so that it does not create problems for others. Both the quantity of stormwater and the quality of stormwater (i.e. making sure pollutants are limited), impact the entire stormwater system for the Town of St. Albans
If I disagree with the amount I am being charged, what do I do?
The property or parcel owner may appeal an allocation of ERUs to the Stormwater Coordinator in the event that there have been physical changes made to the property or parcel that would affect the property’s or parcel's ERU calculation from the time aerial imagery was most recently analyzed. The property or parcel owner shall bear the burden of proof in providing evidence to support their claim in a manner that is satisfactory to the Stormwater Coordinator. The filing of an appeal shall not relieve a property or parcel owner of the obligation to pay the user fee when due.
Are stormwater and sewer systems the same thing?
Stormwater and sewer systems are not the same thing. Sewer systems carry waste that is treated before it re-enters the environment whereas stormwater runoff is not treated and drains directly into the local creeks and streams.
What is watershed?
A watershed is a geographical area which drains to a specified point on a water course, usually a confluence of streams or rivers (also known as a drainage area or river basin).
Why is it important to protect a watershed?
Protecting watersheds can prevent water quality problems such as: pesticides found in local wells, fish population decline, polluted waterways, algae outbreaks leading to “No Swimming” signs on lakes, ponds, rivers, etc.
What is the stormwater drainage system?
The stormwater drainage system is the system that collects, conveys, stores or otherwise affects stormwater or surface water. It can include a network of underground pipes, drainage ditches, culverts, and open channels designed for flood or drainage control which discharge to a receiving water body. The runoff contained within this system is not treated, so anything it picks up goes directly into the stream.
What are things that should never enter a storm drain?
Examples include but are not limited to:
• cleaning fluids
• Wash water from a car wash or personal vehicle
• Industrial discharges
• Contaminated foundation drains
• Wash waters from commercial/industrial activities
• Sanitary sewer discharges
• Washing machine discharges
• Chlorinated backwash and draining associated with swimming pools
What things are allowed to enter a storm drain?
The MS4 permit authorizes discharges of stormwater to enter waters of the State and waters of the United States. The following non-stormwater discharges are allowed to co-mingle with discharges of stormwater provided they are not substantial contributors of pollution to the MS4:
• Water line flushing
• Landscape irrigation and lawn watering, provided all pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers have been applied in accordance with the approved label
• Diverted stream flows
• Rising ground waters
• Uncontaminated ground water
• Uncontaminated pumped ground water
• Discharges from potable water sources
• Foundation drains or footing drains where flows are not contaminated with process materials, and to which there are no floor drain, septic wastewater, or grey water connections
• Uncontaminated condensate from air conditioners, coolers/ chillers, and other compressors and from the outside storage of refrigerated gases or liquids
• Irrigation water
• Spring water
• Uncontaminated water from crawl spaces
• Flows from riparian habitats and wetlands
• Discharges from emergency/ unplanned fire-fighting activities
• Fire hydrant flushing
• Incidental windblown mist
• De-chlorinated swimming pool discharges
Why is stormwater a problem?
When precipitation falls on undeveloped land, it is primarily absorbed into the ground or slowly runs off the land. However, development results in rooftops, paved and concreted areas to be created which prevent water from being absorbed and it runs off at a much faster rate. This causes quality and quantity issues in our local streams and water bodies.
What is the Town’s responsibility for stormwater?
The Town is responsible for managing stormwater within its corporate Town limits. The Town operates and maintains drainage facilities located within the public rights-of-way. The Town does not maintain facilities located on private property or that fall under the jurisdiction of other governmental agencies. Other components of the program include (this is not a complete list of projects or items):
• Improved water quality through monitoring and reduction of illicit discharges and pollutants
• Public information and education
• Increased maintenance or repair of the Town’s stormwater system
• Development of stormwater design standards and regulations
• Field inspections and enforcement
• Construction of identified drainage study projects
What happens if the Town does nothing or refuses to comply with the mandate?
Should the Town choose not to comply with the Federal and State Stormwater mandates, penalties for willful non-compliance can reach up to $25,000 per day for each day of a separate offense or imprisonment, or both. Penalties assessed for violation of the mandate could inevitably be passed on to the citizens.
If I live on top of a hill and I don’t have drainage problems why would I have to pay for stormwater management fees? Or I live on the edge of the Town and water drains on my property away from streets and public drainage structure, or live at the bottom of a hill and not the cause of increased flooding from uphill, why should I pay stormwater utility fees?
Providing for and addressing stormwater is a public service provided by the Town of St. Albans. All buildings contain impervious surfaces (surfaces which prevent water from being infiltrated into the ground). Impervious surfaces on your parcel inevitably place a demand on the stormwater system. Stormwater runoff generated by any property must be controlled and conveyed once it leaves the property so that it does not create problems for others. Both the quantity of stormwater and the quality of stormwater impacts the entire stormwater system for the Town. All property owners receive indirect benefits from a properly maintained and operated stormwater management system for the entire Town.
Stormwater management activities with broad benefits include keeping public streets drained and cleared, making necessary stormwater infrastructure upgrades, reducing erosion and other pollutants that enter streams and lakes, protecting and restoring streams and other aquatic habitat areas and collecting and conveying stormwater safely through all parts of town. A portion of the fees also provide for compliance with Federal, State, and local regulations for water quality improvements; administration of the Town’s stormwater management ordinance; public involvement and educational programs; responding to public health and safety issues that benefit all property owners.
I have a septic tank. Why should I pay this fee?
Septic tanks do not process or handle stormwater. The stormwater utility fee is used specifically to address Town-wide stormwater issues. A septic tank is used to treat wastewater at a specific location. Having a septic tank does not address the necessity of stormwater management.
Why should I pay for rain falling on my property?
Property and/or business owners are being charged a utility service fee for the cost and privilege of discharging stormwater into the public stormwater system which the Town is obligated under law to maintain. With a stormwater rate, users are charged a fee for runoff discharged from their property to the Town’s stormwater management system not by the amount of rain falling onto your property. Property owners control the level of development on their properties, which directly impacts the runoff characteristics of the parcel.
What is Stormwater?
Stormwater is water that runs off impervious surfaces such as rooftops, paved roads, drive ways, and packed gravel roads. Stormwater carries sediment and surface pollutants such as petroleum products, trash, phosphorus, and nitrogen. Most stormwater is not treated before it empties into our waterways and Lake Champlain.
How is the Town of St. Albans affected by stormwater?
As watersheds become more developed, the effects of stormwater runoff are being increasingly seen in our waters. Instead of infiltrating naturally into the soil, water quickly runs off of roofs and paved surfaces, picking up pollution and carrying it to waterways. Increased flows during storm events destabilize stream channels and put biological communities in jeopardy. Unmanaged stormwater is causing water pollution, erosion, flooding, and unstable stream banks in the watersheds of Rugg Brook, Stevens Brook, and Lake Champlain.