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Stormwater fees of $8.50 to $10.50 a month could be coming to Lower Swatara Township

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 4/10/18

Lower Swatara Township residents might start paying $8.50 to $10.50 a month in stormwater management fees by as early as January 2019, although a final decision has not been made.

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Stormwater fees of $8.50 to $10.50 a month could be coming to Lower Swatara Township

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Lower Swatara Township residents might start paying $8.50 to $10.50 a month in stormwater management fees by as early as January 2019, although a final decision has not been made.

Municipalities such as Lower Swatara must establish a plan to control its runoff water and sedimentation. The stormwater requirements of the federal Clean Water Act are administered under the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Program, or MS4.

In early 2017, civil engineering firm HRG began a stormwater feasibility study, and it was completed in October. HRG financial services team leader Tim Staub said the goal of the study was to review the township stormwater infrastructure, assess the feasibility of creating a stormwater management authority, and define the scope, scale and funding for the authority.

“Why we’re looking at a stormwater management authority and a fee is you have a quality issue and you have a flooding issue and you have this overall asset that you need to maintain,” Staub said.

There are six watersheds that are impaired, including five unnamed Susquehanna River tributaries and Burd Run, he said.

“You’ve had some significant flooding events over the last few years, particularly in the Lisa Lake area,” Staub said.

Board President Jon Wilt asked HRG to develop the fee from the perspective of Lower Swatara residents who will have to pay it. 

“I don’t think you’re going to want to be paying $10.50 a month or anything anywhere near that,” Wilt said.

No final numbers

There is uncertainty as to what the fees would be. Numbers are preliminary and are based on impervious surface data from 2002, representatives from HRG said during a board of commissioners meeting on April 4.

An estimated 10 percent of the township is impervious surface, which are paved areas such as roads, parking lots and driveways.

In early March, the board hired T3 Global Strategies to fly over the township and take updated photos of impervious surface. Once the township receives that data — which HRG’s Adrienne Vicari said should come in June — the township will refine what a potential stormwater fee could look like.

HRG estimated $1.4 million a year for an authority budget to include projects, operations and maintenance and administrative costs. Township engineer Erin Letavic of HRG said the budgets were preliminary and based on a particular level of service.

“Maybe if the EPA and the feds all them get curtailed a little bit, we won’t have all the exorbitant fees to contend with,” Wilt said.

Vicari said stormwater fees usually range from $6.50 to $8.50 a month. She added that those fees don’t include permit costs — Lower Swatara’s estimates do — and said she anticipated that other municipalities’ fees may go up.

Stormwater utilities are different from other utilities, Vicari said. Utility bills are usually based on consumption.

“You’re asking the public to pay to prevent things they don’t want to have happening such as flooding, poor water quality. Lots of times, it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’,” Vicari said.

Vicari called stormwater infrastructure the “forgotten asset.”

“Generally, we don’t think about it until it starts to fail because there are more high-profile needs,” Vicari said, such as police, fire department or road needs.

Fee, not a tax

HRG staff recommended establishing a stormwater fee instead of a tax.

Tax-exempt properties still would have to pay a fee, and solicitor Peter Henninger estimated that one-third of the township was tax-exempt.

A fee vs. a tax would make a big difference for property owners. For a property valued at $133,459, HRG estimated that taxes would increase by $32 a month, compared to the $8.50 to $10.50 a month that a fee would cost.

A fee, Vicari said, would allow property owners to mitigate the fee by earning credits. In an interview, Staub said that credits can be earned by property owners improving the stormwater runoff on their property such as through rain barrels or rain gardens. The credits, Staub said, would reduce the fee but not eliminate the fee altogether.

Vicari said it could take around nine months to implement a fee.

“I think if you were interested, you could have the ability to get a fee in place by January 2019,” she said.

Steps to implementing a fee, Vicari said, include reviewing the stormwater management program, gauging public input, evaluating the fee structure, developing a credit policy and appeals process, and reviewing billing options.

Reactionary work

As part of the study, Staub said they met with a committee made up of Vice President Todd Truntz, Commissioner Ron Paul and township staff and asked what they thought of how the township was managing its stormwater system.

In terms of operation and maintenance of the system, planning and compliance and capital improvements, Staub said the committee thought the township was working on an average to minimum level.

“There are some projects that you guys are budgeting and trying to address,” Staub said. “However, a majority of the work on the stormwater is reactionary.”

Gathering public input

Public education is important, Vicari said. She recommended creating a stakeholder advisory committee, and township leaders agreed. Henninger suggested establishing the stakeholder committee to be ready to work once the data comes in.

Vicari recommended that the committee be made up of 15 individuals including residents, business owners, nonprofit organizers, representatives from local industries and school district officials. The committee should meet at least six times — once a month for six months.

The board unanimously voted to authorize HRG to pull together a scope of services, including facilitating committee meetings.