The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 22, 2013

Kessler says stormwater runoff fee is a hardship

A former West Virginia legislator Tuesday decried the stormwater runoff fee imposed on some residents as unfair and uneven, warning that it is hurting businesses and individuals alike.

Mel Kessler, who once served in the House of Delegates, told the Raleigh County Commission that a full accounting of the fee process is in order.

A controversy erupted two weeks ago after a federal judge, ruling in a Virginia case, held that the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its authority.

While Beckley City Attorney Bill File held that the decision had nothing to do with stormwater fees themselves, the ruling certainly focused attention on them locally.

Before it went out of business, Kessler said The Fashion Bug was shelling out $713.15 a month in stormwater fees, while Raleigh Mall turned in $1,441.68 monthly.

“People think that they’re not paying this because they’re lucky enough not to be in the Beckley area, and the 20-mile radius, but you’re paying it,” the former legislator said.

“The board of education down here is paying $1,341.20 a month. And that’s just an indication.”

Kessler said one aspect of the fees that bothered him was that some business owners appear to be avoiding the fee.

One businessman told him he wasn’t paying on a vacant lot, and that if the fees were fully enforced, the city would get $5 million, instead of the current $1 million, Kessler told the commission.

“That’s the way it is,” Kessler said.

“The common worker out here who is heating their food in a crock pot and leaving it on the pilot light are having to come up with this monthly fee. I’m sorry, but that sticks in my craw. People say I’m a little radical over this. Yes, I am.”

Kessler cited a law that says failure to pay can result in being hauled into court, paying a penalty or having one’s water shut off.

“I didn’t elect to do any of these,” he said, “but after 64 years, they put an adverse claim on my credit and caused my insurance to go up. Am I ticked off over it? Yes, I am. And I’m not the only person they’ve done it to.”

Kessler said his credit standing was restored but the experience left him with a bad feeling.

Quoting the Constitution, he said municipal taxes can be levied but must be done so uniformly, but this isn’t the case in Beckley.

Commission President Dave Tolliver said he personally hears two to three complaints monthly about the stormwater runoff fee from people residing outside Beckley, wondering why they are compelled to pay it.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “Why you pay and there are no benefits from it.

“I don’t know how they come up with a fee that they charge people living outside the city.”

Tolliver said he was at a loss to suggest anything that would alleviate the situation for non-Beckleyans.

“If you don’t pay it, they can cut the water off or put a lien on your property,” he said.

“What the solution is, I don’t know.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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