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Storm Water Fee Foreseen for Clarion Borough Property Owners, Including Non-Profits
CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – Just as everyone pays a sewage bill in Clarion Borough, homeowners and other property owners will also likely pay a storm water fee in the future as Clarion Borough Council continues to develop the Storm Water Authority of Clarion Borough.
(Pictured above: The rolling hills of Center Place is one example where using storm water creates havoc, and officials estimate the fix will cost $500,000.00.)
The authority will be separate from Clarion Borough, and as a municipal authority, it will charge a fee for repair of an antiquated storm water system badly in need of repair.
The twist is that all property owners, including non-profits such as churches, Clarion County, and Clarion University would have to pay the fee.
Councilmember Jason Noto said there is not enough money in the borough’s operating budget to tackle the problem.
“There’s nothing specifically dedicated for these problems,” said Noto. “It’s something that wasn’t planned for over the years. The borough has gotten its use of what it originally invested in the system, and they’re at the end of their serviceable life. We’ve got some that the drains that are lined with brick, and the brick is actually holding them up and the bricks are disintegrating. They are so old, and they’re collapsing because there nothing holding them up. Not breaking – disintegrating.”
Members have not yet been selected for the new authority, and the cost of fees has not yet been determined.
“I know that more boroughs and municipalities are doing this because I have asked around. Hopefully, this will not be burdensome to the taxpayers. It’s fairer because everyone pays. It won’t be directed to a small portion of property owners. We’re working through our consultant with other university towns that have done this, and we’re fair with the taxpayer, so it’s there for everyone.”
“The idea was that a tax only hits a certain portion of the borough people, about 27 percent. That 27 percent is paying 100 percent of the taxes. That’s not a sustainable model long-term, and that certainly won’t cover the need we have to replace a very aging storm water system. The idea of this fee is to apply equally to all in Clarion Borough, even tax-exempt entities such as churches, the school district, the university, the county, and others. Stakeholders like that would have to pay the fee, so all the people who are using it, and not just 27 percent, can maintain the system. The non-profits are also pretty heavy contributors to the system and user of all borough facilities and driving on the road that the pipes are under.”
Noto said that the fee would depend on the size of the property.
“For example, if we billed the university at the same rate as a single homeowner, that wouldn’t be fair. All homeowners will roughly pay the same flat fee to start, and that’s what we’re kicking around. At this point, we need to come up with what a flat fee would be for most residential buildings and looking at how much how much surface area and averaging it together and individuals. There will be an appeal process if they feel it is unfair for them, and then we would take actual measurements and have a process to check those things.”
“I think it will be a graduated idea, and we’re not going to throw a big fee right off the bat, so it’s not burdensome to people. We are aware of that. We don’t wish to make life more difficult for people on a fixed income. It will be a reasonable fee to start with, and it won’t be a high fee.”
Lee Stinnett of Salzmann Hughes, P.C. Attorneys at Law, of Harrisburg, and Adrienne Vicario, P.E. from HRG Engineering and Related Services, of Harrisburg, presented a program on storm water authorities to Clarion Borough in November 2015, and council has retained the two professional firms as consultants as the authority is developed.
“It is a fee and not a tax,” said Vicario at the 2015 meeting. “An average monthly fee nationally for residential building is $3.00 to $8.00, but that does vary.”
Clarion Borough spent $92,190.12 in 2015 on storm water sewer replacements and faces a growing amount each year, and all of that comes from the general budget.
“The challenges facing municipalities include aging infrastructure, tightening regulations, increased development equals more storm water, and a lack of level funding,” said Stinnett. “There are three reasons for creating authorities, and they are financial, administrative, and jurisdictional.”
Noto said Clarion Borough would continue to look for funding from different sources.
“Where we can, we’re trying to use Community Development Block Grants. We’re looking at different funding sources such as Penn Vest and looking for any source where we can get funding.”
“An obvious example of the problem is Center Place, and it is looking like a $500,000.00 project, and we need to replace that section of pipe. That’s a good example of why we need to do this. The water flow is too great for the pipe size that’s in there; it’s going outside the pipe destroying the road surface. It’s at its life’s end.”
Clarion Borough is planning public hearings, and people are very much encouraged to attend.
“We’re going to discuss and hash things out. If anyone has concerns, they should come and express their feelings. There will be representatives from the law firm and engineering firm helping us out to help us answer any question that people may have. That will be a great time and place to get information.”
In the meantime, council plans to offer surveys for property owners and questions the size of their roofs and driveways or non-permeable areas. The consultants suggested a flyover of town to provide an aerial view of the town, but the council felt it was too high of a cost at $25,000.00 to $30,000.00.
“I’m certainly hopeful for a good return of the surveys. It benefits people to give us the information, and that’s the way we can determine how we can meet their needs and the needs of the borough. That’s the best way we have at the moment to do it. We would hope to get the surveys out over the winter.”
(Center Place Photo courtesy of Google Maps.)
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