Rain Tax, Violence Dominate Ward 8 Community Meeting

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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The leaders of places of worship in Ward 8 recently met to talk about concerns they have regarding the so-called “rain tax” and what will be done to combat violence in the ward.

On Nov. 11, Ward 8 Faith Leaders organization met at The Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church to discuss a wide range of community issues. One issue that generated a lot of discussion was the rain tax, or impervious surface area charge, that most District of Columbia residents and businesses and places of worship are assessed.

Craig Muckle, manager of public policy of the Archdiocese of Washington, said the rain tax, which was initially created to clean up the Anacostia River, has become a burden to D.C. residents and business owners. (Courtesy photo)

The rain tax is based on an impervious surface, which is a man-made surface such as rooftops, driveways, patios, parking lots and other paved areas such as tennis courts, swimming pools and any other path or walkway. The tax is set by the board of directors for DC Water, the primary provider of water services in the District.

Customers in the District are assessed each month through their water bill. When the tax started in 2009, the environmental residential unit (ERU) was $1.24 per 1,000 square unit. It is now $25.95 per ERU.

Craig Muckle, who is the manager of public policy of the Archdiocese of Washington, told 45 people attending the meeting that the assessment is outrageous.

“This rain tax is a burden on Washington, D.C. residents and business owners,” Muckle said. “What this is supposed to do is to build a tunnel that would clean up the Anacostia River. This tax is supposed to stop in 2025 but I sincerely doubt that.”

The charge is a federal mandate to help clean up the country’s waterways and in the case of the District, the Anacostia River. The tunnel, funded by the rain tax, would keep sewage and stormwater from flooding waterways.

Muckle said churches are being hit hard by the charges because they are required to have parking lots and those lots generate much of the water that flows into the city’s sewage and stormwater system.

Rev. Thomas Frank, who leads Our Lady of Perpetual Help, said that the charge is a problem for his congregation. “We have to pay so much for our water bill,” he said.

There is a belief among some Blacks in the District that there is an effort to get Black churches out of the city so that the land can be used for commercial purposes.

However, Lisa Barton, who works for DC Water, said: “Our board is looking into this but remember that this charge is federally-mandated. We have met with the Archdiocese about their concerns and will try to help churches if we can. We aren’t trying to make money or to hurt people.”

Barton said the tax will end in 2030 and that not all churches are complaining about the situation.

“I am a member of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church and we are paying our water bills,” she said. “If the churches can’t pay the residents will have to pay.” Matthews Memorial is located in Southeast D.C.

On Nov. 14, Muckle and a number of activists attended a Rate Committee meeting of the board of directors of DC Water. The Rate Committee has the power to make recommendations to the general board of directors on changing the rates of the rain tax. Muckle told the {AFRO} that his party wasn’t allowed to address the committee but admitted that public comment at the committee level is rare.

“Even though that is the case, we should have been allowed to say something,” he said.

Muckle said that he participated in a Nov. 17 meeting of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Transportation & The Environment that is chaired by D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3).

“The general topic of the public roundtable was water rates, but I and others were allowed to talk about the unfairness of the rain tax,” Muckle said.

In other activity, D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) told the group that he is committed to ending the gun violence in his ward. “We had 20 people shot in the ward last month,” he said. “That is totally unacceptable and we have city leaders who say that crime is going down.”

White called on the faith community to get more involved in stopping gun violence. He noted that the Ballou High School teen, who was shot, is in critical condition and he has interacted with the teen’s family.

White said faith leaders can help Black men in the community get jobs and better housing as well as “keep them off the streets.”

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