Another step backward

We’re not to presuppose that the Greater Augusta Chamber of Commerce wants anything else than a seat at the table to discuss the stormwater utility fees adopted by Staunton City Council in July to get the Queen City moving on its backlog of more than $15 million in otherwise-unfunded stormwater projects.

Except that the letter from the Chamber to the city sent Tuesday makes it clear that the business lobby opposes the fees in the current form.

We’ve seen this before, of course, though at least when the Chamber inserted itself into the stormwater debate in Waynesboro in 2007 it was before the City Council had put in place a plan of action for moving forward.

The issue then as now is the idea that the fees will create an undue burden on business, though you have to wonder where the Chamber’s heads were on this involving Staunton. We’re several weeks past the public debates on the stormwater issue being resolved now.

Most residential and business ratepayers will see a 50-cent-a-month increase in stormwater fees, though owners of larger properties like the Wal-Mart Supercenter and the Best Buy distribution center will see rate hikes in the area of several hundred dollars per month in line with the amount of impervious surface on their parcels displacing more water and sending more water into the stormwater system.

Which seems fair, except to the Chamber of Commerce, which ostensibly wants homeowners and small-business owners to cover the costs for big business, or doesn’t want to see Staunton move to do anything about its crumbling stormwater infrastructure at all, as has been the effective policy in Waynesboro since the Chamber-directed effort in ’07 led to the downfall of a fee-based financing plan.

As a business owner and former Greater Augusta Chamber member, I’m embarrassed at this latest attempt by Chamber leaders to pass the buck for the costs of doing business from big business on to average taxpayers.

But I’m not surprised.


– Column by Chris Graham

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