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Fairfax County considers spreading developer costs for sewer upgrades among residents

Noman M. Cole Jr. Pollution Control Plant in Lorton (via Fairfax County)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is examining whether developers should continue to bear new infrastructure costs or split the costs among current residents and other property owners.

Sewer fees will already increase starting July 1, when sewer service charges per 1,000 gallons will increase from $7.72 to $8.09.

A proposed sewer reimbursement policy would up that rate by 4.5 cents on average annually, among other increases, by charging current users to cover maintenance and improvements as the system expands with new development.

Even without the changes, the county’s sewer service rate is slated to reach $9.67 over the following four fiscal years to help fund the sewer infrastructure.

Multiple supervisors expressed support for the proposal during a land use policy committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday). Chairman Jeff McKay called it a creative solution.

Currently, if a developer wants to build, they must upgrade sewer infrastructure to accommodate the project if necessary, which is known as a “growth-pays-for-growth policy.” There’s an option to reclaim some of those costs if other development contributes.

Before the pandemic, developers paid anywhere between $16.3 million and $42.5 million annually to install sewer infrastructure, according to county estimates.

The matter comes as the county faces significant affordable housing needs, and developers seek to minimize costs to aid further growth.

The current system’s gradual reimbursements and lack of a guarantee for future reimbursement have seemed to be unattractive to developers, according to a Feb. 8 memo from county executive Bryan Hill.

Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross and Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity had raised concerns in October, saying that larger projects can spread out costs across multiple buildings or developments, but developer fees can be burdensome for smaller projects where the capacity would be breached.

Between 2016 and 2021, over 90% of developer-led projects didn’t have to upsize existing sewers, based on a county Public Works and Environmental Services estimate, because the current system had adequate capacity.

When sewer capacity is sufficient, developers don’t have to do anything further.

The county board could also change when developers get paid, potentially accelerating projects.

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