Charity Car Wash Bans

Summer 2014

Financial incentives to use pavers reward everyone

David R. Smith

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Charity Car Wash Bans

An article in a recent Washington Post reported that a city in Northern Virginia is banning ad hoc fundraiser car washes sponsored by charities. The article noted such bans are common in western states, but new to the nation’s capitol area. The reason cited, not surprisingly, is uncontrolled water pollution entering storm drains, streams, rivers and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

However, such regulations send an inadvertent blow against volunteer groups wanting to raise money for good causes. Their fundraising options are reduced to passive and possibly financially riskier activities such as yard and bake sales. 

There’s another side to these types of car washes. Where are they are held? Often on commercial parking lots such as a bank, coffee shop, gas station or a fast food restaurant. Business owners must like the attention drawn to their businesses as well as the civic support message. Some water exchanged for publicity? Not a bad public relations deal. So with regulations closing down ad hoc car washes, businesses that host them lose as well.

Instead of nixing a viable revenue source for often financially-strapped volunteer organizations, why couldn’t regulations allow such car washes only on permeable pavement? Granted, there aren’t a lot of commercial properties with permeable pavement right now, especially on highly visible sites conducive to attracting customers.

But there is hope. A growing number of municipalities are providing cash rebates to residential and commercial property owners to install permeable pavements. Municipalities realize that it might be less expensive to revert the earth’s surface from impervious back to permeable to break the vicious financial cycle of upsizing storm sewer pipes.

Montgomery County, MD, (pop. 1 million) is one such place providing financial incentives to install permeable interlocking concrete pavement (PICP) in residential driveways and commercial parking lots. Called RainScapes Rewards, the financial incentives aren’t huge, but they are a positive start. This issue features an article on what the County and its residents have accomplished.

Stormwater utilities abound across the U.S. and Canada where property owners pay their municipality a fee—like trash and sanitary sewage—to carry away and dispose of stormwater. The fee is often paid with the water and sewer bill. About half of the stormwater utilities offer as much as a 50 percent reduction in fees if permeable pavement or other practices are installed to reduce the amount of runoff the municipality must transport via its storm drainage system.

Beyond stormwater utility fees, what if municipalities offered property tax relief for installing permeable pavement for the purpose of supporting charitable organizations? Relief could be offered for the permeable area for a period of years or as long as the permeable pavement exists. A more generous approach might include tax relief on the impervious surface(s) draining into it, as well as on the permeable pavement. From the municipal perspective, they would want to know the extent to which their drainage system benefits by giving up a few to several thousand dollars annually in tax revenue. For cities with minor flooding areas, adjacent high-value rivers and lakes, or combined sewer overflows, it might be worth it. 

If municipalities went this route, or even the more benign stormwater utility fee route, they could incentivize car washes on permeable pavements. Example: install PICP, host 10 car washes annually and receive a property tax or utility fee break. Wouldn’t that send a positive signal to volunteer organizations? Many of these organizations already do public sector-type activities, saving municipalities time and money. Keeping such organizations going with a range of revenue options while protecting the environment is good for everyone.

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