The Capital Region Water board tonight voted to release its proposed stormwater fee for public review, despite a plea from Harrisburg’s mayor to halt and rethink the process.
The unanimous CRW approval kicks off a six-month process that will include public comment and meetings.
“We have 90 days of public comment period so we can hear from people,” said board Chairman Marc Kurowski. “It gives us the fourth quarter of the year to make any modifications to the plan.”
Under the current proposal, most residential customers would pay a new stormwater fee of $72 a year, or $6.15 a month. Commercial customers could potentially pay much more, depending upon the amount of impervious surface area on their properties.
The board voted following a presentation by Claire Maulhardt, CRW’s City Beautiful H2O program manager. She said that CRW is under a “partial consent decree” with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to slash the amount of untreated pollutants flowing into the area’s streams and the Susquehanna River.
As a result, CRW will have to spend some $315 million over 20-plus years to come into compliance, she said. Planned improvements include everything from facility and infrastructure upgrades to installing porous pavement and greening 177 additional acres of land.
Following Maulhardt’s presentation, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse articulated numerous objections.
He said that he feared that city residents would not be able to afford the fee, especially if entities like the Harrisburg school district and Standard Parking passed on their higher fees to residents.
“I’m now paying more on my water bill,” he said. “I’m now paying more to park. Guess what the school district will do? It will pass it on. It all eventually will fall back on the residents.”
In her presentation, Maulhardt asserted that most residents would actually pay less in total, as commercial customers would carry more of the burden with the stormwater fee implemented. If the fee were not implemented, residents would still pay for stormwater improvements, just as they do now, but through the existing wastewater fee, she said.
She said that, currently, residential customers shoulder 48 percent of stormwater expenses, but only account for 23 percent of the city’s impervious surfaces.
Papenfuse, however, didn’t buy the validity of her argument.
“Our residents will have to pay more,” he said. “If you’re a renter, it will be passed onto you. We already have a problem with affordable housing in Harrisburg, and that will make it worse.”
Papenfuse further criticized the process that resulted in CRW proposing the fee. He said that a steering committee should have been formed, which should have included municipal officials, and that the ultimate solution should be a statewide tax, not a user fee.
He also questioned whether the commonwealth—which would pay the second-greatest fee among all users—would actually pay it and, if they did, if they’d retaliate by reducing the annual $5 million “emergency services” payment to the city.
“It is something that can work in some capacities, but all the ramifications haven’t been thought through,” he said.
Numerous surrounding municipalities already have imposed a stormwater fee, which was permitted by a change to state law several years ago.
Maulhardt said that CRW planned to hold three community meetings in Harrisburg to make presentations and get in-person feedback from the public. In addition, she said that CRW would accept comments on the proposed stormwater fee on its website starting Thursday, along with information and background on the fee.
“This is a mandate that has come down from the federal level that we have to deal with and fund, and it’s not an easy situation,” Kurowski said. “We’re trying to find the most equitable and fair way to do it.”
For more information about Capital Region Water and, starting on Thursday, the proposed stormwater fee, visit their website.