Augusta-Richmond County charges a storm water fee to all residents. The fee is based on the amount of impervious surface that covers the property. Impervious surfaces would include parking lots and the roofs of permanent buildings.
While the storm water fee is billed through the utilities department, it functions more like a county-wide tax. The fee is paid by whomever responsible for the water bill on the property. If are no water or sewer utility services, the bill goes to the property owner on record.
The structure of the fees disproportionately affects properties that have large parking lots such as big box retail centers and churches. Churches, which are non-profit organizations, do not pay property taxes. Churches are, however, forced to pay the storm water fee because of their large facilities and parking lots that have large impervious surfaces.
All properties pay storm water fees even if there isn’t any storm water infrastructure to the property.
One property has taken storm water matters into their own hands. The Regency Mall.
Regency Mall, which has long been a target of local politicians during campaign seasons, remains untouched and a blighted eyesore at the corner of Deans Bridge and Gordon Highways.
Richmond County records indicate that Regency Mall paid approximately $90 thousand per year in storm water fees due to the large parking lot and roof coverage of the dead mall.
Mall owners found a loophole: remove the impervious surface. Regency Mall scraped the parking lot off of the property.
With the parking lot scraped clean, rain soaks into the dirt instead of running down asphalt into the county storm water system. The benefit to the mall owners is approximately $65 thousand per year.
If the county would simply raise property taxes to cover the storm water fee, it would be more proportionate to property owners, based on the property’s assessed value instead of impervious surface. This would also solve the problem of churches effectively paying property taxes under the guise of a storm water fee.
If the county will not adjust how storm water fees are calculated or how they disproportionally affect certain property owners who get no storm water services, then perhaps people should start removing their parking lots.