Officials weigh fees on runoff

Municipalities may impose stormwater charges

A representative from one of the municipalities comprising the council of governments responsible for compliance with tightening stormwater regulations favors imposing a special assessment to pay for his municipality’s stormwater costs.

“I’d like to see a stormwater fee effective for 2020” in Blair Township, said Ed Silvetti, township supervisor and member of the board of the Intergovernmental Stormwater Committee.

Currently, the township is paying its $90,000-a-year contribution to the ISC and other stormwater costs with general fund revenue generated by property and earned income taxes, but that is “unsustainable” — given supervisors’ unwillingness to raise property taxes, Silvetti said.

The regulations that require the ISC as a whole to spend $6.2 million over five years to reduce sediment entering area streams by 1.4 million pounds annually is an unfunded mandate, and so looked at with loathing by many local government officials. But that loathing shouldn’t obscure its status as a mandate, Silvetti said.

“We have to do it,” Silvetti said. “Otherwise we’ll be fined by the EPA and the DEP.”

Development in the township over the years has tended to generate annual revenue increases, enabling the township to avoid increasing the property tax for about a dozen years, Silvetti said.

But such development is slowing, he said. Meanwhile inflation continues.

Cutting public safety or public works isn’t a good option for making ends meet, he said.

Advocates of stormwater fees often cite them as more equitable than regular taxes, because they target the producers of the problem.

State Act 62 gives second-class townships, like Blair, the authority to enact the stormwater fee, Silvetti said.

The township’s lighting district program follows the general concept, adding electricity charges to the tax bills of residents in neighborhoods where there are streetlights, Silvetti said.

There are various ways to use such a concept to generate money for stormwater.

“I guess it falls under the guise of a user fee,” Silvetti said, “(although it’s really) a tax by another name.”

The easiest way would be to impose a flat fee for each tax parcel, calculated by dividing the needed revenue by the number of parcels, Silvetti said.

A fee of $39 a year per parcel would cover the township’s $90,000 contribution to the ISC, he said.

“(Still), the easiest way is not necessarily the fairest,” he said.

Another way is to levy charges based on the amount of impervious surface on each property, he said.

But it would cost money to do the necessary research and calculations, he said.

It wouldn’t make sense to spend $100,000 to generate $50,000, he said.

No decisions have been made about the issue, he said.

Before those decisions are made, there would be public forums, he said.

“It’s the fair thing,” he said.

No doubt there would be angry people, Silvetti conceded.

He accepts that, although getting mad about something the township is forced to do doesn’t help, he said.

The forums would give the supervisors the opportunity to explain, he said.

It’s better for the supervisors to confront the issue, according to Silvetti.

“I’m not going to sit around and slough it off,” he said. Doing so would just make the problem worse.

Antis looking at issue

Antis Township manager and ISC member Lucas Martsolf has been trying for months to prepare his township’s supervisors for a decision on whether to enact a stormwater fee.

“Our stormwater responsibilities are biting into our general fund,” Martsolf said. “A stormwater fee is probably a more fair way to raise (money) than increasing taxes.”

A consulting engineer has provided an overview of six options, in ascending order of “effort” and cost — and equitability, according to the engineer’s report.

A flat fee is simple, easy to explain but makes no distinction between properties and provides no incentive for the owners to reduce runoff, according to the report.

A fee based on Equi­valent Residential Units is the simplest system that takes actual amounts of runoff into consideration. The ERU equals the impervious square footage for an average or typical single-family residential property and uses that for all such residential properties — although it calculates actual impervious square footage for multi-family and commercial parcels. It’s relatively simple, but doesn’t distinguish between residential properties with little impervious area and those with lots of it — nor does it take account of pervious runoff for any properties.

A fee based on the ERU with residential tiers distinguishes among residential properties based on their amounts of impervious surface, as calculated by easily accessible information, in­cluding the amount of living space, the size of building footprints, whether there are garages and the size of those garages. While more precise, this method re­quires additional calculation and maintenance — even as it doesn’t consider runoff from pervious surfaces.

A fee based on intensity of development relies on the amount of impervious surface as a percentage of each parcel, which allows it to take account of runoff from both impervious and pervious surfaces. This method slots those percentages into categories like vacant, low density, medium density and high density, charging accordingly. The method is fairly complicated to use and difficult to explain to the public.

A fee based on Equi­valent Hydraulic Area, uses calculations like the ID method, but is more precise, establishing a specific fee for each property’s impervious and pervious areas, rather than relying on just the percentage of impervious.

A fee based on Resi­dential Equivalent Factor uses land cover type, land use, soil type and average rainfall to calculate what percentage each parcel contributes to the municipality’s total runoff.

Antis will probably lean toward one of the flat fee options, because of the ease of administration, Martsolf said.

A more sophisticated setup based on the amount of im­pervious surface per parcel might be more equitable, but a small township like Antis may not be able to afford it — not only because of initial assessment cost, but also be­cause of the need to set up a system to investigate and then hear appeals, he said.

Then again, maybe a flat fee isn’t all that inequitable, Martsolf suggested.

“I get it,” he said of those who would complain about a stormwater fee if they don’t have property that generates storm runoff.

“But it’s the political subdivision (as a whole that) needs to meet the requirements,” he said. “We’re all in it together to meet those requirements, whether we like it or not.”

Logan in waiting mode

ISC member municipality Logan Township doesn’t need a stormwater fee, at least for now, Supervisors Chairman Jim Patterson said.

There were discussions last year at budget time, but the supervisors would prefer to wait to see if the state or federal governments offer grants that could defray more of the ISC costs, he said.

“Why put money out front forward when we might not have to?” Patterson asked rhetorically. “Why try to burden the taxpayers?”

There are “too many unknowns yet,” he added.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.