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Lower Swatara looking at $8 monthly fee for stormwater utility

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 12/5/18

Several members of the Lower Swatara Township Board of Commissioners expressed interest in implementing a flat stormwater utility fee of $8 a month for residences, which includes having the township …

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Lower Swatara looking at $8 monthly fee for stormwater utility

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Several members of the Lower Swatara Township Board of Commissioners expressed interest in implementing a flat stormwater utility fee of $8 a month for residences, which includes having the township provide a subsidy averaging $50,000 a year to lower the rate, during a meeting Monday.

No vote was taken.

Some municipalities across the state such as Lower Swatara are required to manage their stormwater systems, runoff water and pollutants entering streams through an MS4 — municipal separate storm sewer system — permit.

One of the purposes of Monday’s meeting was to discuss the stormwater budget and capital projects included in the budget. The most recent draft budget calls for generating an average $1.28 million in annual revenue over five years for MS4.

Bruce Hulshizer of HRG, the township’s engineering firm, said that the budget has to be presented to the township municipal authority, who has to adopt it and set the stormwater rate.

The fee is not a tax. If the stormwater program was funded through a tax, then tax-exempt properties would not have to pay.

Under past budget drafts, a flat fee for a single family residence fell at $9.30. The budget that Hulshizer presented at the meeting called for a monthly flat fee of $8.40.

“Some communities choose to subsidize because they feel like their fee is too high to start with,” he said.

Hulshizer said the revenue assumes participation from all properties, including entities such as FedEx, Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority (which runs Harrisburg International Airport) and Penn State Harrisburg.

He noted that the budget assumed 25 percent credits, which could help lower the fee. Credits could be earned several ways, including management practices that control stormwater and public education.

The board expressed interest in knowing what the fee might be for larger property owners.

Township manager Betsy McBride said she didn’t want to have to raise the fee a year later, but also didn’t want them to be the highest in the area.

Initially, HRG staff suggested that a fee could be enacted as early as January, but commissioners expressed interest in a later date.

“Before we paint ourselves into a corner here and get ourselves into a lather and pick a number that we’re going to throw at our constituencies, I think we can think about this just a little bit harder and not put ourselves under a false deadline,” Commissioner Michael Davies said.

Commissioner Chris DeHart asked whether it could be realistic to shoot to implement the fee in May or June.

“We’ve been telling people for the last year and a half that it’s coming,” DeHart said, adding that businesses would want to know so that they can budget for it.

During the meeting, the board discussed stormwater projects, most of which are proposed to be funded through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, or PennVEST.

Previous drafts of the budget called for projects to be funded through a bank loan, which Hulshizer said is more expensive than borrowing from PennVEST.

The budget identified just more than $12 million in capital projects. The most expensive project is installing a new storm sewer in Rosedale along with replacing curbs, repaving streets, installing ADA-compliant curb ramps and setting up a stormwater authority.

This is estimated to cost $5.5 million and be funded through PennVEST, although the township wouldn’t start paying the debt service until 2021. The first cost would be $273,897.

One of the other identified projects is stream restoration near Greenfield Park and Middletown Area Middle School. The township was awarded a $180,000 grant for the project. The grant was funded through a $12.6 million penalty that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection imposed on Sunoco for permit violations related to the Mariner East II pipeline.

Other projects include constructing floodplains along Stoner Run and First Street; stream work near Richardson Road and 80th Street; new storm sewer systems, curbs, repaving and ADA-compliant curb ramps in Georgetown and Rosedale; a new system on Lumber Street; a new storm pipe, outfall and box on Delmont Avenue; improvements on North Union Street; replacing a culvert near the Swatara Creek; and to evaluate floodplain reconstruction projects identified in a 2007 study.

According to Hulshizer, some of the next steps include picking a rate option, having the commissioners and the municipal authority review a draft credit policy, sending out postcards to township residents, and adopting agreements for the lease and management of the system. Then, the authority would accept the stormwater budget and adopt a rate resolution and credit policy.