WESTLAKE CORNER - Members of a Smith Mountain Lake organization concerned with water quality have unveiled a proposal to raise money for lake maintenance by levying additional taxes on lake property and requiring boat owners to buy decals.
The plan's advocates say it's the most reliable way for lake residents and users to prevent the waters from becoming polluted or choked with invasive weeds. The plan's critics say it would create a redundant level of bureaucracy by collecting fees for programs that should already be funded by state or local governments.
Two years ago, the lake's leading civic group, the Smith Mountain Lake Association, floated an idea that lake residents should form their own town. The idea was to give residents direct control over government services in their community. But when members realized that forming a town government meant paying more taxes, the idea sank.
"A town would do many other things other than maintain the quality of the lake," said Stan Smith, chairman of the Smith Mountain Lake Water Quality Coalition, the group proposing the special tax district. "Our mission is very narrow. We want to maintain the quality of the lake."
"Am I in favor of establishing another government agency that can get its hand in my pocket? No, I am not," said Jim Silvey, a Bedford County lake resident. "You're paying for another level of government to do what two other levels are already in place to do."
Members of the lake association have been studying the possibility of a special tax district for more than a year. They led the formation of the water quality coalition, which has representatives from several lake organizations, including the Smith Mountain Lake Boating Association and the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce/Partnership.
"It was formed out of frustration with our inability to fund things," said Smith, a lake association director.
The plan's purpose is to create a steady source of funding to manage numerous water quality problems, including removing debris, controlling weeds and studying sedimentation. State funding for water quality monitoring programs has been cut in recent years.
Many lake residents think the counties they live in benefit disproportionately from the high taxes on lakefront property but don't put enough money into lake maintenance.
The proposal calls for people who own land along the lake to pay $60 per lot annually in addition to their county real estate taxes. People with off-water properties that access the lake would pay $35.
The special district would also require $25 decals for boats. A lake resident would have to buy only one decal for the life of the boat. Nonresidents would have to renew their $25 boat decals seasonally.
The plan also budgets a $40,000 salary for a person to check stickers and issue tickets. Smith said Friday that the group hasn't settled on what the fines should be. "They can range from $100 to $250 at other lakes."
He emphasized that the idea isn't set in stone. "It's not clear whether we would employ somebody to do that, or whether we would give the counties money to have their deputies spend more time on the lake."
The service district would become law if the counties bordering the lake - Bedford, Franklin and Pittsylvania - adopted identical ordinances enforcing it, Smith said.
The $1.1 million the fees are expected to raise annually would be administered by an organization containing representatives from the three counties; American Electric Power, which operates Smith Mountain Dam; and seven people elected to represent lake residents. The organization would assume the lake maintenance duties now performed by the Tri-County Lake Administrative Commission.
Franklin County Supervisor Russell Johnson, who represents a district bordering the lake, said he doesn't like the idea of adding another tax, but if the counties won't give more support to the lake there may be no alternative.
"Every tributary that comes into this lake is impaired," he said. "The water that is in the lake is better than the water that is coming into the lake. That trend is only going to continue for so long."
Supervisor Charles Poindexter, who represents another Franklin County lake district, said other factors need to be considered, including a push at the state level to create a water quality policy and what AEP's future responsibilities will be.
AEP is in the process of renewing its license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the dam. That license expires in 2010. The counties and some residents are lobbying FERC to expand AEP's lake maintenance responsibilities in the new license.
Once the state's and AEP's roles are clarified, "we'll have an idea of whether a special tax district is the way to go," Poindexter said.
Smith said he expects criticism of the proposal, though many lake residents have expressed support for it.
"I know that this is not something that's going to be universally accepted, but we're running out of time to be proactive," he said. "It would save us a lot of money and a lot of grief if we could head off some of these problems at the beginning."
Wonderful, now that property taxes went up 100-300% this year and the power company is going to start making us buy a permit every year for our docks this chit comes along, buy another sticker for each boat and another $60 tax on the lots. When will this stop HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH!!!! Remember we already pay VA property tax on boats and registration fees to Inland game and fisheries
Sorry had to vent
Last edited by BAJA WILL; 04-12-2004 at 09:49 PM.
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