Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Get Ready for Winter, Winterize!

Clay Butler from Pleasants Hardware shares some weatherization tips. DPU will be giving away some similar type samples for city seniors at the store on West Broad Street, Friday, Oct. 11, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Hickory Hill Community Center, Friday, Oct. 25.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Drink More Water

First Lady Michelle Obama has launched a campaign to urge people to drink more water.

"If we take just one step to make ourselves and our families healthier, the single best thing we can do is to drink more water," she said. "That’s it – it’s really that simple. Drink just one more glass of water a day and you can make a real difference for your health, your energy, and the way you feel. So Drink Up and see for yourself.”

Her initiative was launched in collaboration with the Partnership for a Healthier America, which is “devoted to working with the private sector to ensure the health of our nation’s youth by solving the childhood obesity crisis."

Opponents have said bottled water and water filtration companies are behind this as financial supporters as it benefits them, but citizens can just as easily drink tap water if they want, and the City of Richmond has always been a proud advocate of the quality of its tap water for drinking. 

Other "health experts" have said that there is no medical proof that drinking more water has a health benefit, but the simple reality is that if a glass of water replaces a glass of a sugary drink, there is an obvious benefit. The benefit may not be in the amount of water you consume in a day but the displacement of other types of beverages in your diet that do have proven negative health implications. The adult human body is almost 60 percent water, and a child's body is close to 75 percent, so drink the fuel we're meant to run on -- water!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Stormwater Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why do I have a charge for stormwater on my utility bill?
In response to customer feedback, and with City Council approval, the annual bill for the stormwater utility for residential and non-residential properties (commercial, industrial, non-profit, multi-family, schools and college properties) is now divided into 12 equal installments. This monthly incremental amount first appeared on the regular monthly utility bill for local property owners beginning with the August 5, 2013 utility bills, and will continue on each monthly bill thereafter. The charge appears after wastewater charges and before charges for any other City services, such as solid waste and recycling, in the bill section, which details current monthly charges. It appears as a line item saying “Stormwater charge." The amount is in the right column of the monthly detail section. Property owners who received their bill on August 1 or 2 saw their first stormwater charge on their September 2013 bill. This amount was prorated for two months of stormwater service.

2. How do I calculate my stormwater bill if I am a non-residential property and am charged per ERU’s (Equivalent Residential Unit)? ERU = 1, 425 sq ft.
Example: The monthly stormwater utility charges for a non-residential property with 14,250 square feet of  impervious area is $450. See the following calculation:

14,250 square feet/1,425 square feet = 10 ERU’s, 10 ERU’s x ($45 per ERU / 12 mos.) = $37.50/ month.
(also see question 19)

3. I own property in Richmond, but I do not receive a monthly utility bill.  How will I be billed for my stormwater bill?
Property owners who do not receive a monthly utility bill will receive a quarterly utility service bill for stormwater only service. The first bill was sent in September 2013 for the period of stormwater service from July 2013 through September 2013. The second bill will be sent December 2013 for the period of stormwater service from October 2013 through December 2013, and so on.
4. Since my stormwater fee is now on my utility bill, can my utility services be shut off if I do not pay my stormwater fee?
Your utility bill payments are applied in the following order: stormwater, wastewater, water, and natural gas. Failure to pay or make payment arrangements for the entire amount of your utility bill can result in delinquency, late fees and eventually service disconnection.

5. Am I able to pay my stormwater fee all at once and get it out of the way?
Yes.You can designate your payment at any time to go specifically to the Stormwater utility fee. If you decide to make one annual lump sum stormwater payment, you need to either make your payment in-person in Room 102 at City Hall and tell the cashier what you want to do, or you need to contact DPU at 804-646-7000 once your lump sum payment appears on your utility service bill. DPU can then designate the payment as a stormwater only payment.

6. Can I direct my payment to a specific utility?
Yes. DPU currently receives payment in this manner. When paying in person, you may designate which utility you would like your payment to be posted to.

7. Why is my stormwater bill higher than before?
DPU currently utilizes updated aerial photography, which is able to capture more impervious area features than before, such as driveways, building additions, patios, etc. If you have more impervious area, that may have put you into a higher stormwater class, or increased the number of your Equivalent Residential Units (ERU).

8. What is the timeframe that the city uses to bill for Stormwater utility fees?
DPU bills for stormwater on an annual basis in accordance with our fiscal calendar which runs from July – June.

9. Will the stormwater charge added to my monthly utility bill affect my payment arrangement?  
All payment arrangements are for your current bill amount plus the payment arrangement amount. Your payment arrangement will not be impacted by the addition of your stormwater charge on your utility bill; however, you must be sure to pay all the current charges, which include your monthly stormwater charge, to avoid cancellation of your payment arrangement.

10. What does the Stormwater Utility fee pay for?
The fee provides funding to implement new programs for preventive maintenance, repair, and improvements to the city’s storm drain system. With these programs, entire storm drain systems in large areas of the city are cleaned on a periodic basis before serious problems occur. Funding from the Stormwater Utility allows for improvements that directly target local flooding problems.

11. What is stormwater runoff?
Stormwater runoff is the portion of rain and melting snow that does not soak into the ground. It runs off driveways, parking lots, roads, and other impervious surfaces that do not allow the water to soak through to the ground below.

12. What is an impervious surface?
Impervious surfaces are areas that have been paved or otherwise covered with material that is resistant to penetration by water. These surfaces do not allow rainwater to soak into the ground. Impervious surfaces are mainly constructed surfaces like, rooftops, sidewalks, roads, and parking lots, and are usually covered by impenetrable materials such as asphalt, concrete, brick, and stone.
The impervious surface is not equal to the inside square footage of a structure.

13. What causes stormwater runoff?
The continued urban growth within the city has increased the amount of impervious area. As a result, when it rains, there is an increase in the amount of water runoff that picks up pollutants as it makes its way into the city’s drain system and eventually into the James River. This additional runoff can cause flooding, threats to public safety, and pollutants to enter receiving waters, like the James River.

14. What are the environmental benefits of creating a Stormwater Utility?

  • Improvement of water quality by reducing non-point source pollution (NPS)
  • Prevention of stream bank erosion
  • Healthier habitats for the James River and associated tributaries
  • Cleaner waterfront and park areas
  • Reduces sewer back-ups
  • Reduces incidences of West Nile Virus

15. Do other cities have stormwater utilities? 
Yes, there are approximately 400 stormwater utilities nationwide, and several in Virginia, including Portsmouth, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Chesapeake, and Newport News. The municipalities that adopted Stormwater utilities selected this approach because it is both fair and impartial.

16. Who pays the Stormwater Utility fee?
All developed properties are charged a stormwater fee. Properties paying the fee include residential properties, *commercial and industrial properties, non-profit organizations, schools, colleges/universities, state and federal owned properties and parking lots. 

*These entities that have infrastructure or facilities set up to control the quality and quantity of stormwater run-off from their property and may apply for a full or partial credit, up to 50 percent of their stormwater fee.  

17. Do tax exempt properties have to pay?
Yes, because it is a fee, not a property tax. Property taxes are based on the assessed value of the property. The Stormwater Utility Fee is based on the amount of impervious surface area a property has.

18. Are there any properties that are excluded from this fee? 
Yes, these include: undeveloped properties, public streets and roadways, cemeteries and 
*city of Richmond owned properties.

* Richmond Public Schools and properties owned by Richmond Redevelopment Housing Authority (RRHA) are not owned by the city of Richmond and are therefore required to pay the stormwater utility fee.

19. Do I have to pay for any unoccupied developed properties that I own?
Yes, because that property still contains impervious areas.

20. Why do I have to pay when I do not have any drainage problems?
Everyone in the city benefits from the stormwater maintenance program. If stormwater runs off your property, the city must have a program and funding to manage the increase in runoff and pollutants.  
Direct benefits include protecting your property from upstream runoff, protecting properties downstream from your runoff, and improving water quality in the James River.

21. How much is the fee calculated and how much do I have to pay?
Richmond has a three-tiered rate structure for single family residential (SFR) parcels based on the amount of impervious surface area.

Residential is billed each month at 1/12 of annual fee.
Rates per single family residential (SFR) parcel
1. SFR parcels less than or equal to 1,000 sq. ft. = $2.083 per month or $25 per year
2. SFR parcels between 1,001-2,399 sq. ft. = $3.75 per month or $45 per year
3. SFT parcels greater than 2,400 sq. ft. = $5.833 per month or $70 per year

Minimum fee for all property classes is $25 per year of $2.083 per month.

Rates per *ERU (Equivalent Residential Unit)
*Equivalent Residential Unit = 1,425 sq. ft. = Each ERU is billed at $45

4. Multi-family = $3.75 (monthly ERU*), $45 (annual ERU)
5. Non-residential (includes but is not limited to commercial, non-profits, churches, schools, colleges and universities) = $3.75 (monthly ERU*); $45 (annual ERU)

Example: The monthly stormwater utility charges for a non-residential property with 14,250 square feet of impervious area is $450. The calculation is:

14,250 square feet/1,425 square feet = 10 ERUs, 10 ERUs x ($45 per ERU/12 months) = $37.50 per month 

Non-Local Property Owners (billed on a quarterly basis, i.e., 4x per year)
Rates per single family residential (SFR) parcel
1. SFR parcels less than or equal to 1,000 sq. ft. = $6.25 per quarter, $25 per year
2. SFR parcels between 1,001-2,399 sq. ft. = $11.25 per quarter, $45 per year
3. SFT parcels greater than 2,400 sq. ft. = $17.50 per quarter or $70 per year

Equivalent Residential Unit = 1,425 sq. ft, each ERU bill at $45 quarterly

4. Multi-family and non-residential categories = $11.25 quarterly ERU*, $45 annual ERU

Example: The monthly stormwater utility charges for a multifamily property with 14,250 square feet of impervious area is $450. The calculation is:

14,250 square feet/1,425 square feet = 10 ERUs, 10 ERUs x $45 per ERU = $450/4 = $112.50 per quarter

22. *How was the Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) determined for Richmond, Va.?
The city of Richmond’s ERU was derived using property data from the city Assessor’s Office and impervious area calculations from the city’s Geographic Information System (GIS). The ERU is the average impervious surface area for all single family residential units within the city of Richmond. This calculation for the city of Richmond is 1,425 square feet.

23. Are residential properties eligible for credits on their stormwater bill?
Yes. Residential properties may apply for partial credits up to a maximum allowable credit of 50 percent by implementing LID (Low Impact Development) techniques on their property. Examples of these techniques include rain barrels, rain gardens, and vegetative filter strips. Residential stormwater credits once approved are renewed every three years. Information about residential stormwater credits, including application and renewal forms, can be found on DPU’s website

24. Does the city offer credits or reductions to residential property owners based on income?
No. The city only offers credits to residential property owners as outlined in the response above.

25. Are non-residential properties eligible for credits?
Yes. Non-residential properties may apply for partial credits up to a maximum allowable credit of 50 percent by implementing LID (Low Impact Development) techniques on their property. Examples of these techniques include permeable pavers, rain gardens, and green roofs. Information about non-residential stormwater credits, including application and renewal forms, can be found on DPU’s website.

26. Why do I pay a Stormwater Utility fee when I don't have ditches or drain inlets on or near my property?
The water that leaves your property (runoff), either from irrigation or rainfall, ultimately drains into a city maintained drainage facility. You are determined a fair fee because this runoff contributes to the ever present need for maintenance.

27. Does the Stormwater Utility maintain ditches that cross private property?
No. The responsibility for maintaining the ditch, pipe or channel belongs to the property owner. Stormwater Utility crews can only maintain ditches or other drainage facilities on private property if the facility is within the drainage easement granted to the city and if the facility carries runoff from upstream property. Without an easement, the responsibility for maintaining the ditch, pipe or channel falls on the property owner. For more information about easements call DPU’s Customer Care Center at (804) 646-7000.

28. When are storm drains cleaned?
The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) Stormwater Utility will regularly clean and clear the storm drain system by following a bi-yearly cleaning schedule for over 178 miles of city maintained drainage pipes. Some major pipes will be cleaned monthly. The Stormwater Utility welcomes calls from the public notifying us of problem storm drains and encourages residents to help by keeping storm drains near their homes and businesses clear of debris. It is especially important to not rake leaves into the street.

29. How did the city obtain information about my property in order to determine its stormwater classification?
The information was obtained from the City’s Geographic Information System base maps and information provided by the City’s Assessor’s office,  and verified using aerial photos.  

30. What if I do not agree with the stormwater charge  I received from the city?  
Customers who do not agree with the amount of the stormwater charge they receive should contact DPU’s Customer Care Center at 646-7000. DPU’s customer service representatives can answer your stormwater questions. If after contacting the Customer Care Center, you still feel your stormwater fee is incorrect, you may provide a written request for an administrative hearing with the director, or his designee. Your request should detail any information which supports your position about property ownership, the amount of impervious surface area on your property, or your stormwater class.