Antis Twp. debates funding

Not yet sure who will front stormwater system cost

The Antis Township supervisors recently authorized their consulting engineer to advertise for bids to replace the failing, 25-year-old township-owned stormwater collection system serving Parkview Estates, a development off old Route 220 near the Northern Blair Recreation Center.

That sets up the supervisors for a decision about how to pay the estimated $225,000 cost: whether to place the entire burden on the approximately 70 households of Parkview or to spread the burden over all township taxpayers.

“It’s yet to be determined,” said Supervisors Chairman Bob Smith, adding that he wasn’t going to predict how the majority of the five board members would vote.

The situation is unique in his 14 years as supervisor, Smith said.

A video survey has shown that the undersides of at least half the sections of galvanized pipe that comprise the 1,400-lineal-foot system have at least partly disappeared due to corrosion, allowing stormwater to scour out the stone bedding, causing sinkholes, damaging a road and washing stone into the pipes, causing clogging that aggravates the problem, according to engineer Chris Dutrow of Stiffler McGraw, who is designing a replacement system that will use more durable plastic.

The current system was installed about 1994 and was accepted as township property, apparently without being inspected, Dutrow said.

The township has been working piecemeal on the system — applying “Band-Aids” — for years, according to Parkview residents who spoke on Friday and a memo addressed to the supervisors from Township Manager Lucas Martsolf, but the situation hasn’t improved, according to residents.

The work needs to be done, according to Smith and Martsolf’s memo.

“Public infrastructure must be maintained,” Martsolf wrote, under the heading “Undisputed Facts.” “The public demands we do something.”

The township as a whole could pay for the project by using its cash reserves or by applying a stormwater assessment fee, according to Martsolf.

The township could extract the cost of the project from the Parkview residents alone by applying a stormwater assessment fee only to those residents, Martsolf said.

Stormwater assessment fees were authorized for municipalities like Antis by Pennsylvania Act 62 of 2016, according to Martsolf’s memo.

Stormwater assessment fees applied to entire municipalities are generally “for dealing with federal MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems) mandates,” he wrote.

MS4 installations are designed to prevent stormwater from carrying sediment and other pollutants into streams and generally are not intended to correct problems like the failing Park­view collection system, according to Martsolf’s memo.

By contrast, stormwater assessment fees that are applied specifically to areas that will benefit from a particular project are “for something like the Parkview Estates project,” the memo states.

One argument for making Parkview alone responsible is that none of the Parkview residents have been paying monthly fees connected with the system’s upkeep, according to one local official.

The situation contrasts to those experienced by customers of municipal water and sewer authorities who receive monthly bills for service that includes portions set aside to cover depreciation of piping, so the authorities will have money saved to replace those lines when they fail.

It’s not the Parkview residents’ fault that there were no depreciation payments over the years, said development resident Andrew Danish, adding that he’d be willing to start paying into a fund for the future.

Most townships that assess stormwater fees do so on their entire tax base, according to James Wheeler, environmental manager for the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.

A collection system has a definitive watershed, but if it fails — or if it never existed — downstream facilities with significance beyond that watershed are put at risk of damage, Wheeler said.

Those can include roads, bridges and buildings, Wheeler said.

Thus, it makes sense for municipalities to spread the cost of replacing failing systems over their whole revenue base, even when the systems to be repaired are of limited scope, he said.

Tony Rudolf of Antis Township — who lives a couple of miles from Parkview Estates — agrees.

“The township is the township,” Rudolf said.

Moreover, inadequate stormwater control is a problem all over Antis, according to Rudolf and his wife, Erin.

Parkview is the “most urgent challenge,” but there are others, especially in Bellmeade, Reightown and Pinecroft, according to the memo.

Insofar as stormwater problems exist in many areas of the township, it makes sense to spread the costs over the whole township tax base, the Rudolfs said.

Stormwater problems can happen anywhere, said a Parkview resident who didn’t give his name.

But if the township as a whole pays for Parkview, it ought to immediately begin work on the other problems — “Phase 2” — immediately upon completion of Parkview, Erin Rudolf said.

The township as a whole should be responsible, even though there are examples of individuals paying lots of money to take care of storm runoff problems on their own properties, Erin said.

A neighbor paid $11,000 to stop runoff flooding in her basement, Erin said.

Stormwater facilities in Antis are a mix of public and private, closed and open, according to the memo.

Bellmeade “has a mishmash of township and private” conveyance systems, while Reightown has a “hodgepodge of connected (but not coordinated) ditches and pipes” and Pinecroft, along Pinecroft Avenue, lacked all retention capacity until a recently constructed bridge provided some, the memo states.

The township as a whole should cover the costs of the Parkview work, because the township owns the system — although that acceptance of a system comprising notoriously corrosion-susceptible galvanized pipe, when plastic was available, was “stupid,” said Ed Walter, a township resident who lives a couple of miles from Parkview.

Parkview residents shouldn’t be penalized for the “negligence” that led to the system’s failure after only 25 years, said a second Parkview resident who didn’t give his name.

Had the township not taken ownership of the system, replacing it probably should have been a responsibility of the Parkview residents alone, Walter said, confessing that he has “mixed feelings” even about that.

The township as a whole should pay, to maintain “quality of life” in the municipality, Danish said.

“It’s why we pay taxes,” said the first Parkview resident who didn’t give his name.

The average Parkview resident actually pays far less in property taxes to the township — just $102 per year — than to the school district, which takes $2,363; and the county, which takes $1,079, according to Martsolf’s memo.

If the supervisors place the entire cost of replacing the stormwater system on the Parkview residents, with payback by a 10-year, no-interest loan, it would require each household to pay a little less than an additional $300 per year over that span or a little less $25 a month, according to the memo.

Stormwater is becoming a regular “utility,” because of issues like Parkview, and even more, because of the MS4 mandates, according to Martsolf’s memo.

That is a surprise to people who often take stormwater facilities for granted, Smith said.

“This is one of those transitions that many townships must make as they move from being predominantly agricultural or wooded to being much more suburban,” the memo states.

In Antis, developments like Parkview Estates have replaced woodlands with “dozens of homes, miles of streets and driveways and hundreds of thousands of gallons of stormwater runoff which used to infiltrate into the groundwater,” the memo states. Accordingly, “the board MAY have to ask people to contribute for something that they didn’t realize had a cost.”