Capital Region Water (CRW) is having trouble getting one of its largest customers to pay its newly implemented stormwater fee.
On Tuesday, representatives from Harrisburg’s water and sewer authority implored the commonwealth, which has not been paying its assessed stormwater fees, to chip in.
At a state Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee meeting on Tuesday, CRW representatives said that the state is refusing to pay $32,246 per month, or $386,956 per year, in fees assessed on nearly 5.4 million square feet of impervious surface within CRW’s jurisdiction.
“Ultimately, what this means is the absence of that fee forces that to be covered by other members of the community, including residential ratepayers and commercial businesses,” said Marc Kurowski, board president of CRW.
In 2019, CRW proposed the stormwater fee as part of its City Beautiful H20 program to raise funds for infrastructure improvements in the city. The investments would help fulfill clean water requirements by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The fee took effect in October 2020.
Harrisburg has an outdated combined sewer system that results in millions of gallons of untreated sewage flowing into the Susquehanna River each year, Kurowski explained.
The stormwater fee raises funds for about $170 million in green infrastructure improvements in the city and updates to the system over the next nine or so years, according to CRW.
The fee costs the average Harrisburg residential property owner $6.15 per month. Commercial and other customers are charged based on the amount of impervious surface on their properties.
According to Kurowski, CRW determined this to be the most “equitable” way to raise funds for needed stormwater improvements, while not placing all of the cost burden on Harrisburg residents, many of whom live below the poverty line. If everyone paid their share, CRW projected that it would raise $5.3 million annually.
Kurowski said that other Harrisburg customers with large properties, such as the federal government, businesses and churches, have paid the fee. However, the commonwealth hasn’t paid for any of its properties, including the Farm Show Complex, which has multiple, massive paved parking lots.
With the $386,956 annually from the state, CRW said that it could finance a $7 million PENNVEST loan to make progress in reducing the impact of stormwater runoff in the city.
Not only is the commonwealth evading stormwater payments in Harrisburg, but also in many other cities, Kurowski noted.
“The optics of this for the commonwealth are horrible,” said Sen. Gene Yaw, chairman of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. “It seems to me there’s something wrong here.”
CRW CEO Charlotte Katzenmoyer explained that the state has argued that CRW doesn’t have the authority to tax the commonwealth. But she said that the stormwater fee doesn’t fit the definition of a tax. Katzenmoyer cited case law that determined that taxes finance general government operations, while a fee is limited to the costs of a specific service and must be reasonably proportional to the charge.
“As opposed to generating revenue for an array of uses as a tax would, the stormwater fee is raising dedicated revenue that will be redirected back into the system for specifically stormwater projects,” CRW said in a statement.
According to Kurowski, if their efforts in trying to communicate with the state aren’t successful, CRW may look into filing a lawsuit.
“The state’s failure to acknowledge its role is confounding and without merit,” Katzenmoyer said.
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