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Pot, Stormwater Fee Lead Discussion at City Council

February 19, 2013

Charlottesville residents will soon have to pay a stormwater utility fee. Charlottesville City Council voted 4 to 1 Tuesday night to approve the ordinance, which charges property owners for water runoff.

The fee was a popular topic at the meeting, prompting Mayor Satyendra Huya to block off an extra half an hour of public comment specifically for people wanting to talk about the stormwater utility ordinance.

Many people from churches and non-profits urged councilors to reconsider the ordinance, saying it would cut into their already dwindling budgets and force them to scale back services.

"If we get a bill, we have to pay that bill, so it will be met," said Salvation Army Major Allen Johnson. "But we will use dollars that would otherwise be used to support the programs that are helping people in our community."

Major Johnson compared the fee to about 6-8 red kettles at Christmas.

Councilor Davis Norris was the only opposing vote.

The money from the fee will go to the Water Resources Protection Program.

Councilors also discussed decriminalizing marijuana possession in the city, but the idea is having trouble getting off the ground.

A motion to make the crime a class IV misdemeanor -- which would have eliminated jail time for first-time offenders -- stalled in council.

Opponents said it would send the wrong message about drug use while supporters said easing the punishment would save the city time, energy and money.

Councilor Kristin Szakos said she believes jail is not the answer for most non-violent crimes, but said the ordinance, as written, was not compelling enough to take action.

Norris said, "If I could wave a magic wand, I'd legalize it locally."

This was just the first reading, but three councilors -- Kristin Szakos, Kathy Galvin and Mayor Satyendra Huja -- said they would not support the ordinance. Norris then withdrew the motion.

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