Planners: York County residents would nominate stormwater authority members

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
Felicia Dell, director of the York County Planning Commission, speaks at a Nov. 8 public meeting on the York County Stormwater Authority Implementation Plan. The meeting was held at the York Learning Center in North York.

The York County Planning Commission presented new details about the make-up of a proposed countywide stormwater authority at a public meeting held Nov. 8.

In a presentation at the York Learning Center in North York, Ben Ried, an attorney with the project's steering committee, said the committee is focused on accountability.

"There's a lot of checks and balances you can put into the documents that create the authority," he said. "We want to have those in there."

The proposal calls for an authority board with 11 members, in addition to three people who will work full-time at the York County Conservation District.

Legally, the York County commissioners must vote to appoint all members of the authority, but Ried explained that nine of the 11 board members would be recommended to the commissioners by county residents.

How it would work: The planning commission identified nine watersheds in the county, and the idea is for each watershed to have a three-person advisory board. This means there would be nine advisory boards and a total of 27 advisory board members.

Each of the nine advisory boards would then nominate one person from their area to be appointed to the authority board by the county commissioners.

"The recommendations to appoint members are going to come from the advisory committees, and the commissioners are going to honor those nominations," Ried said.

Additionally, the commissioners would be able to appoint two people of their own choosing to complete the 11-person board.

More:County property owners would fund proposed stormwater authority

More:OPED: Input sought on stormwater authority

Lindsay Gerner, a senior planner with the planning commission, said the steering committee is still hammering out the details of how the first round of appointments would be made, but eventually the watershed advisory board members would be appointed by the sitting authority board based on recommendations from municipalities.

The steering committee is still working out how to represent municipalities that fall within more than one watershed, such as East Manchester and Hellam townships and Red Lion, which are divided by three or four watershed boundaries.

"This can't be a top-down approach, and we're really working to have an authority that is accountable to everyone in the county," Ried said.

Background: Felicia Dell, director of the planning commission, provided a brief overview of the reasons the county is looking to establish a stormwater authority.

In past meetings, Dell explained that although municipalities, farmers, businesses and homeowners all address stormwater issues individually, the county is not meeting the overall stormwater requirements imposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The goal of a countywide authority would be twofold: to improve water quality monitoring and data collection that shows where the county is having success, and to provide the monetary and human resources necessary to remedy the areas that need improvement.

Under the proposed authority fee structure, one fee would be charged for each tax parcel in the county, and every parcel would require a base fee of at least $48.90 per year. Parcels are categorized based on the property's tax assessment classification.

For residential land, property owners would be charged $48.90 for each of their parcels, regardless of the size of the property. The total fee would be $97.80 for someone who owns two residential parcels, $146.70 for three residential parcels, etc. 

For commercial land, which includes commercial, apartment, industrial and utility parcels, property owners would be charged either the base annual fee of $48.90 or a total annual fee of $0.01205 per square foot of impervious area within each parcel, whichever is more. 

Feedback: About 150 people attended the Nov. 8 meeting, and the crowd was split between support and opposition for the plan.

During a public comment period, Aaron R. Manifold, chairman of the Hopewell Township board of supervisors, said he took issue with the legal ramifications of creating an authority, which would have the legal right to set future fee amounts that are higher than those outlined in the initial proposal.

"There's no reason to create another level of government," Manifold said. "Whether you call it an authority, whether you call it a fee, whether you call it a tax — it's still dollars out of the residents' pockets."

There also were residents who supported the idea of a stormwater authority.

Lettice Brown, MS4 coordinator for York City, said she understands that nobody wants to have another expense added to their finances, but she asked everyone to keep in mind what the fee would pay for.

Brown said that stormwater does not get treated or cleaned before it enters creeks and streams.

"When your cigarette butt or that food wrapper, fertilizer or your dog's waste gets washed into our stormwater inlets, guess where that goes? Into our streams," she said. "And where do our streams go after that? Some of those streams go into our drinking water supply."

Brown pointed out that some of the funds collected for the stormwater authority would be used for public education about stormwater  and that residents can help solve the problem if they have more information.

Ted Evgeniadis, a Mount Wolf resident and a riverkeeper with the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeepers Association, also spoke in favor of the authority proposal.

"This plan will allow the community to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean and remaining autonomous to larger governmental organizations," Evgeniadis said.

Evgeniadis added that by addressing the issue now, York County might be able to avoid interference by a larger governmental organization, such as the EPA, and avoid the higher costs associated with such oversight.

The planning commission hopes to present a stormwater authority proposal to the York County Commissioners for a vote in early 2019.