Harrisburg is dropping the idea of potentially privatizing its water system, as Capital Region Water (CRW) has agreed to delay the start of a new stormwater fee for six months.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse said that the city would cease any effort to sell or lease the municipal water/sewer system following discussions with, and changes by, CRW to its stormwater fee implementation schedule and evident progress in finalizing a stormwater plan.
“Ultimately, I’m hopeful that CRW can get the job done,” he said. “Privatization is off the table.”
On Wednesday night, CRW passed its 2020 rate schedule, which will implement a new stormwater fee, but not until July 1. Originally, CRW had planned to begin the fee on Jan. 1.
“This is a better plan,” Papenfuse said, following the CRW board meeting. “A delay of six months means a big difference to a lot of people.”
The delay, he said, will give some property owners “a chance to work through the appeals process” for their stormwater assessments. It also gives CRW more time to get final approval from the federal government for its plan to cut the flow of pollutants into area waterways.
CRW plans to spend some $315 million over the next 20 years to slash the amount of wastewater that flows into Paxton Creek and the Susquehanna River during heavy rains. That plan, which relies heavily on building out green infrastructure to prevent stormwater from overwhelming the combined stormwater/wastewater system, has yet to be approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Papenfuse said that he hopes that CRW and the EPA will reach a final agreement during the first half of 2020. He had cited this lack of final approval as part of his objection to the stormwater fee, which will raise some of the money to pay for the system improvements.
In July, his administration issued a request for information to explore the possibility of selling the system. Four qualified companies responded, and the city interviewed three of them, Papenfuse said.
Papenfuse said that the interviews were “very informative and interesting,” but, in the end, the city decided to stick with CRW.
“I’m pleased to give them an opportunity to do it,” he said.
Rate-wise, most of CRW’s residential customers in Harrisburg will begin paying a $6.15 per month stormwater fee beginning on July 1. That amount equates to $74 per year ($37 for 2020).
The non-residential rate will fluctuate based on the amount of impervious surface on the commercial properties. Most commercial property owners will pay the standard residential rate of $6.15 per month, times a multiplier based upon the amount of additional impervious surface on their properties over 700 square feet.
CRW said that it would mail out assessments to property owners detailing their new stormwater fees.
This plan differs markedly from one presented just a week ago during a CRW budget workshop. At that time, CRW stated that it planned to impose the stormwater fee incrementally over the next three years, beginning on Jan. 1.
On Wednesday, CRW board Chairman Marc Kurowski said that board members changed their approach following further discussions with the city, as well progress with the EPA.
“It was a lot of different things,” he said. “It wasn’t one single item.”
The 2020 wastewater fee also changed during the past week. During last week’s budget meeting, that fee was due to be unchanged.
However, on Wednesday night, the CRW board approved a 4.5 percent increase, from $7.65 in 2019 to $7.99 in 2020 for 1,000 gallons of water.
This change prompted Harrisburg resident Evelyn Hunt, who serves as a community “ambassador” between CRW and her Allison Hill neighborhood, to object.
“I thought that was going to be a zero,” she said. “It’s changed from zero to 4½ in a period of a week. When you give a presentation as to what it’s going to be, don’t come back a week later and say it’s 4½.”
Board member Alisa Harris told Hunt that the rate changed due to revised financial data.
“We received information just today,” she said. “I assure you, it was not just to change things.”
CRW also approved a rate increase for the third component of its service—drinking water. For 2020, drinking water rates will increase by 2 percent from $9.65 to $9.84 per 1,000 gallons, plus a 2 percent increase in the “ready to serve” charge.
The drinking water rate is the same as proposed during last week’s budget workshop.
For more information about Capital Region Water, visit https://capitalregionwater.com/.