Stormwater Fee Frequently Asked Questions

 

Q. What is a stormwater fee?

A: A Stormwater Fee is a “fee for service” based on the cost to manage stormwater that runs off impervious surface areas. Some properties are exempt from real estate taxes, but all contribute to stormwater issues and are required to pay the fee. All money collected by the fee can only be used for stormwater management activities and not redirected to other uses.

Q. Who is actually charging the fee and why?

A. The West Hempfield Township Municipal Authority was created to handle funding for the Township's stormwater management program.  The Municipal Authority is charging this Stormwater Management Fee.  Municipal Authorities exist throughout Pennsylvania to handle municipal utilities such as sewer, water, and now stormwater.  Stormwater management is much like sewer and water utilities in that there is a system of pipes and structures throughout the Township which need to be maintained, replaced, and upgraded over time.  Federal and State mandates, laws, and regulations dictate what we are required to do.  Failure to comply can result in failed stormwater systems, contribute to flooding, increase pollution in waterways (such as the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay), as well as bring possible significant fines from the Federal EPA and State DEP.

Q. How was the fee determined?

A: Fees are based on the amount of impervious surface area on a property, area that prevents rainwater from infiltrating into the ground (i.e., buildings and parking areas). A geographic information system (GIS) mapping survey determined the average Single-Family Residential lot has 2,350 square-feet of impervious coverage. As such, this became the basis for one ERU or Equivalent Residential Unit. The fee for one ERU is $72.00 per year ($6.00/month) to cover the cost of the anticipated (2023) $1.7 million annual stormwater management budget.

Non-Single-Family Residential property owners will be charged a fee based on the number of ERU equivalents on the property, which will be multiplied by $72.00/ERU to determine the annual fee.

NOTE: For 2021, the Authority is extending discounts on this fee due to unanticpated federal funds coming to the Township to help cover the cost of our stormwater projects.  These discounts are NOT gauranteed for future years.

The discounted 2021 fees are as follows:

Residential:   All Single-Family Residential Properties will pay $54.00.

Agriculture:  All Agricultural properties with one ERU will pay $54.00. All Agricultural properties over one ERU will pay $36 per ERU.  All agricultural properties over one ERU for which an approved conservation plan is provided to the Township, along with certification that the plan has been implemented, will be reduced to one ERU. 

Non-Residential/Non-Agricultural:   All Non-Residential/Non-Agricultural properties with one ERU will pay $54.00. All Non-Residential/Non-Agricultural properties over one ERU will pay $36 per ERU. 

Q. Will this fee stay at this rate forever?

A. We cannot guarantee the fee will never increase as we do not have control over all of the variables which determine our costs. However, we have attempted to set a fee which should sustain us for many years to come based on current requirements. If the federal and state requirements continue to increase, then the fees may need to increase in order for us to remain in compliance. The next set of state requirements are expected to be in place for 2023 or 2024.

Q. What are impervious surfaces and how do they contribute to stormwater problems?

A: Impervious surfaces are any surfaces that do not allow rain or snowmelt to infiltrate at the same rate as natural surfaces such as grass or soil. They include rooftops, driveways, patios, parking lots, sidewalks, and other man-made structures.

Q. Hasn’t the township always had a stormwater system? Nothing has changed on my property. Why will I be charged now when I haven’t paid in the past?

A: Yes, the Township has had a stormwater system for a long time. The Township was first regulated under the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) program in 2003. The MS4 program is a collection of unfunded mandates that are handed down by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and administered in Pennsylvania by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Prior to 2020, the Township was able to comply with these unfunded mandates using revenue from normal tax collections. Many new federal and state requirements were introduced in March of 2018 under the Township’s five-year National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to combat the water pollution issues in West Hempfield Township’s 5 watersheds, as well as the subwatersheds.

The most important (and costly) of these is the requirement for the Township to implement a Pollutant Reduction Plan (PRP). Compliance with these unfunded mandates is expected to cost the Township more than $2.8 million over the next five years. Complying with all the regulations, maintenance and repair is expected to cost $1.7 million annually. Tax revenue alone is no longer sufficient to pay for the costs of compliance and care, so a dedicated stormwater management fee is necessary now even though it has not been necessary in the past.

Q. Why not just include the stormwater program in cost in our property tax?

A: The primary reason for assessing the stormwater fee instead of raising property taxes is to link the amount that each property pays to the amount of stormwater that is generated on the property. There is not necessarily a correlation between the tax-assessed value of a property and the amount of stormwater that the property generates.

Additionally, some properties are exempt from taxes, but all properties contribute stormwater runoff and should pay the stormwater fee just like all properties have other utility bills like water, sewer, electric, etc. Furthermore, the revenue can only be used for stormwater management and cannot be redirected for other uses in the way that tax revenues can. This ensures that the Township will have funds to meet all MS4 program requirements.

Q. What has the Township done to reduce costs for Stormwater Management?

A. The Township has worked hard to reduce the financial burden on our taxpayers by finding projects which are cost efficient and to apply for as many grants as possible to offset our costs. In 2020 alone, we were awarded over $1.5 million in grants to help with the cost of our stormwater program.

Q. What will the stormwater fee pay for?

A: Regulatory Compliance for increasing state and federal requirements

Stormwater system cleaning and repairs

Capital projects, including the following:

EPA and DEP Mandated pollution reductions

Drainage Improvement projects to address local flooding.

Major Drainage projects needed to improve the Township’s stormwater system.

Q. How often will I be billed?

A: The stormwater fee will be billed annually. The first fee would appear as a separate bill in July 2021. Q. How are undeveloped parcels treated? A: Undeveloped parcels and parcels with less than 500SF of impervious area will be exempt.

Q. Are other municipalities enacting stormwater fees?

A: Many municipalities have already enacted stormwater fees because, unlike a property tax, which exempts nonprofits, a stormwater fee treats all owners equally according to the amount of impervious coverage on their property.

Some examples of annual stormwater fees in the central PA region (where multiple tiers exist, numbers shown are for a comparable impervious surface of 2,300 sq.ft.):

               East Lampeter Township $66.00
               Harrisburg City $73.80
               Derry Township $78.00
               Mt. Lebanon Township about $ 96.00
               Silver Spring Township $108.00
               Carlisle is considering $126.00
               Lower Paxton Township $128.00
               Susquehanna Township $ 139.20
               City of Lancaster $147.50
               West Chester Borough $180.96

Q. Was there a public input process for considering the stormwater fee?

A: Yes. A Stormwater committee consisting of residents representing the business, agriculture and residential sectors provided initial and continuing input. Public Comment periods were accessible at the Board of Supervisors’ and Stormwater Authority’s meetings. The meetings were announced via the Township website, newsletters, newspaper, and media sites.

Q. My water stays on my property; it doesn’t flow into a storm drain. Am I exempt?

A: No. Even if stormwater does not flow directly to the street or into a storm drain, all runoff accumulates pollutants as it travels across land. The storm drain system allows for the continuity of traffic, commerce, and public safety in the event of a storm. Furthermore, the removal of pollutants from our waterways is necessary for the long-term health and vitality of our community. Everyone benefits from those conditions regardless of how runoff may be directed on their personal property.

Additionally, all property owners benefit from services provided by the Township that are beyond their property lines, such as permit compliance, MS4 system maintenance, street sweeping, storm clean-up, and stormwater improvements throughout the Township. The MS4 and roadway drainage systems serve all residents and allow people to commute to work, school, church, local businesses, parks, etc. Stormwater management is a community-wide service, and the program costs need to be distributed to all property owners.

Q. Why do I have to pay if my subdivision is built out, and has an adequate storm system already?

A: All properties in the Township contribute stormwater to the system, so all should contribute to the costs of operating the system. A portion of the fee’s revenues will be used to maintain and to make water quality improvements to the existing system, including the one in your neighborhood. As facilities age, they require a higher level of maintenance and eventual replacement.

Q. Does this mean the township will take care of the drainage in my yard?

A: No, West Hempfield will take care of stormwater pipes within township owned easements and rightsof-way. Property owners are responsible for mowing and general landscape care in any easements, as well as other yard areas, including portions of the right-of-way that front on their property.

Q. Does this mean the township will take care of the stormwater structures on my property?

A: For now, no. If your property contains a private stormwater structure (i.e. pipes, inlets, outfalls, etc.) the Township is not responsible for maintenance or replacement of them. As such, our priorities are the stormwater systems that are directly owned by the Township and are our responsibility. Once all our structures are addressed, there may be an opportunity at some time in the future that the Township can assess if we wish to take on private systems and structures.

Q. Will the Authority provide credits to the stormwater fee for on-site stormwater controls or BMPs?

A: The Authority will not be implementing a credit program in 2021. At this time, the Authority is finalizing a credit program for Structural Best Management Practices BMPs (I.e., rain gardens, basins or swales – that control and treat stormwater runoff)

An annual reduction in the stormwater management fee, also known as a credit, may be available to users to help property owners reduce their annual stormwater management fee and to offset the additional cost of maintaining their facilities. Please check back for updates on this topic. It is anticipated that credits will be available for the 2022 billing cycle.

Q. Are gravel and compacted stone charged at the same rate as other impervious surfaces?

A: Yes, gravel and compacted stone are considered impervious because this material, used for roads and parking lots, is engineered and compacted to withstand heavy loads. These compacted materials form a seal through which water will not readily infiltrate.

Q. If I believe there is an error in my impervious surface calculation can I appeal?

A: Yes, the West Hempfield Municipal Authority has an approved appeals process. The appeals form and instructions are available at Westhempfield.org and at the Township building. Property owners must prove either the square footage of impervious area listed for their property is incorrect or there was a mathematical error in the fee calculation.

Q. When are West Hempfield Municipal Authority (WHTMA) meetings held?

A: When there is business to be conducted, WHTMA meetings are held the first Tuesday of every month after the Board of Supervisors meeting.

Q. What is the lowest ERU calculation a property can be charged?

A: Each non-exempt parcel will be billed a minimum of one ERU. Q. Isn’t this really just a rain tax? A: No. It is not based on the amount of rain. It is based on the cost to manage the stormwater and associated pollution, Federal mandates, and stormwater infrastructure.

Q. What if my property is vacant?

A: The fee applies whether it is occupied or not.

Q. There is no dedicated fee for police or roads, why have one for stormwater?

A: Township services are general services the township provides. Stormwater is evolving to become a true utility with regulation, infrastructure and maintenance costs.