Stormwater not a problem anymore

Fear and Loathing in Waynesboro column by Chris Graham

Moving Waynesboro Forward. Three simple words. An interesting concept.

We wanted to let Waynesboro voters know the stakes that were at play in the recent city-council elections. I’ve personally been hearing for years from residents frustrated that the city hasn’t been willing or otherwise able to finish what it has started in getting a West End fire station up and running and involving itself in public-private efforts to revitalize our downtown and take care of basic infrastructure needs like stormwater-system improvements.

Looks like we can look forward to four more years of fear and loathing. The city manager, no doubt feeling pressure from the new ultraconservative majority that will take the reins of the city six weeks hence, has proposed a series of painful cuts to the 2008-2009 city budget that will effectively gut the stormwater program that the new majority had pledged just a couple of weeks ago to see through and will also slice into the muscle of our public-safety apparatus.

New majority leader Frank Lucente introduced a tax-rate ordinance last week that would keep the levy on city property owners at the current 70 cents per $100 assessed value, which would be all well and good if Lucente had stuck to his promise to city voters last year to back a proposed utility fee that would provide a stable source of funding for stormwater improvements. As we all know, though, he reversed course and now supports paying for stormwater improvements, if we can even say that now, given what is happening on that front, out of the general fund.

I hate to be the kind of person who says I told ya so, but I told ya so. I said during my campaign for city council that there was no way that we could pay for stormwater improvements out of the general fund without raising taxes, which is why I support, as Lucente did last year, as current council members Nancy Dowdy and Lorie Smith do today, the creation of a utility-fee funding system. I actually agree more with Lucente, at least where he was on this last year, than I do Dowdy and Smith, in that I think a system that begins with a 50-50 split between residential taxpayers and businesses and industries in the city and then offers credits and incentives for those who have undertaken efforts to mitigate their contribution to the stormwater problem or do so in the future is the best way to go.

Whatever funding mechanism we end up with ultimately, of course, would be better than the nothing that we’re going to get now. And folks, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The new majority is making it clear that public safety isn’t a priority, and we have to wonder where we’re going to be in a year or two on the economic-development front if Lucente follows through with his promise to cut off promised city funding for the Wayne Theatre restoration.

(Though I have to wonder parenthetically if he will be able to follow through on that one. The new Ward B council member, Bruce Allen, may end up having to recuse himself from any votes involving the Wayne due to what would appear to be an obvious conflict of interest in that he works as a property manager owned in part by local developer John Johnston, whose Mathers Construction has something of an interest in the outcome at the Wayne. Stay tuned there.)

Waynesboro deserves better.

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