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Sewer mandates befuddle municipalities

Officials unsure how to pay for MS4 program requirements

A mini-revolt against the costly requirements of the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System regulations by two Franklin County municipalities triggered a discussion locally about how to pay for the MS4 program long-term.

As outlined in the Herald Mail of Greencastle, that borough and surrounding Antrim Township have jointly suspended their MS4 programs, turning to the state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency for “more realistic options,” according to the Herald Mail article, which was shared with local officials by the staff of state Sen. Judy Ward, whose district includes the Franklin County municipalities.

At a state Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee hearing in Franklin County in September in which Ward participated, officials from both municipalities decried the regulations that had led the borough to enact a stormwater fee based on impervious square footage to pay its $630,000 annual cost of compliance.

The fee called for the owners of one tract to pay $47,000 annually.

One of the main objections from the Franklin County municipalities is the modeling that underlies the 10 percent sediment-reduction goal that is the basis for that calculation that translates into costly projects — modeling that doesn’t reflect the alleged minimal contribution of Greencastle, for example.

“I’m looking for feedback” on the Franklin County article, Antis Township Manager Lucas Martsolf asked the members of the Intergovernmental Stormwater Committee, which is a council of governments representing the 11 urbanized Blair County municipalities.

Those municipalities collectively are responsible to reduce their sediment flow to streams by 1.4 million pounds per year by 2023.

The total cost of that effort is estimated to be $6.2 million — responsibility for which is divided among the municipalities based on population, miles of impaired streams and impervious area.

Martsolf recently surveyed 40 municipal managers throughout Pennsylvania on how they’re dealing with the MS4 mandate and found that 40 percent have either levied or are preparing to levy stormwater fees, while 20 percent are raising property taxes, he told the group.

Antis supervisors have been speaking to such municipalities “to see what their thoughts are,” said Antis Supervisor Tim Mercer.

Further discussion will be needed with state lawmakers, he said.

Costs have become “exorbitant,” Mercer said.

For now, the township is taking the costs out of its reserve funds, according to Mercer.

Those average about $95,000 a year, Martsolf told the ISC.

“But to take it out of our capital reserve fund — that is not sustainable,” Mercer said. “Eventually, we’ll use all those reserve funds.”

Even now, it’s difficult, according to Martsolf.

“You can’t take $100,000 out and not affect other areas,” he said.

“These unfunded mandates are killers,” said Logan Township Supervisor Joe Metzgar at a recent meeting during which the supervisors approved a tentative budget.

This year’s Logan Township contribution to the ISC is $347,000, according to a budget summary handed out at that meeting.

Next year’s is expected to be $500,000, Metzgar said.

“Tell us where this is coming from,” he said. “This needs to stop.”

Blair Township is discussing the possibility of a fee, said engineer Brian Shura of Stiffler McGraw, who is among a cadre of engineers who work regularly with the ISC.

One of the advantages of a fee based on property owners’ contributions to the sediment problem — such as by charging per square foot of impervious surface — is fairness, compared to simple property tax, because it applies to pollution generators that are property tax-exempt, according to Martsolf.

“It’s really a burden for everybody,” said Tim Brown, chairman of the ISC and the Logan Township manager.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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