State’s refusal to pay stormwater fees burdens residents

Charlotte Katzenmoyer
Capital Region Water
York County Planning Commission Director Felicia Dell presents information during a public meeting at the York Learning Center regarding the proposed York County Stormwater Authority on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. The purpose of the meeting was to allow the general public to discuss the implementation plan for the authority. Bill Kalina photo

Managing stormwater remains one of the biggest challenges for municipal authorities across Pennsylvania. To meet state and federal requirements, many communities rely on stormwater fees to fund improvements that prevent runoff.

The fees have been a hot topic in municipalities across York County.

But these fees only work if everyone pays their fair share. And right now, the commonwealth is refusing to meet its legal financial obligation to pay stormwater fees for properties it owns in dozens of municipalities across the state, especially in central Pennsylvania.

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In Capital Region Water’s jurisdiction, an area that includes the Capitol Complex and other state-owned properties in Harrisburg, the state refuses to pay $32,246 per month, or $386,956 per year, in stormwater fees for 22 accounts totaling 5.4 million square feet of impervious area.

Capital Region Water is by no means alone. At a recent Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee hearing, several authorities testified about the state’s non-payment and the challenges it brings to stormwater program implementation. “The optics of this for the commonwealth are horrible,” committee chairman Sen. Gen Yaw said.

We couldn’t agree more.

The state contends it has no obligation to pay because a stormwater “fee” is a “tax” to which it is immune. That assessment is flawed and counter to established case law. Even the federal government pays stormwater fees. The commonwealth’s refusal also conflicts with other entities that pay. After all, if churches and school districts can pay their stormwater fee, why can’t the state pay its fair share?

Not only does the state’s refusal to pay legal stormwater fees hamper clean water efforts, but it also unfairly burdens residential, commercial, and nonprofit ratepayers who must make up the difference.

— Charlotte Katzenmoyer is the chief executive officer for Capital Region Water.