Municipal officials anticipate incoming storm water fees

CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette Water gushes out of a storm drain and down into a low area beneath the rail bridge directly south of the Arch Street Bridge in South Williamsport shortly after heavy rainfall late Thursday afternoon.

DuBoistown, with its smaller population base, is expected to be the hardest hit by the stormwater mandate, so far — potentially raising fees by $15 per month or $180 per year, on average, according to officials.

A final fee structure is scheduled to be enforced by July 2020. Until then, DuBoistown will draw down an estimated $80,000 from an escrow account, line-itemed for stormwater, then their general fund, said John Bickhart, engineering services manager for Lycoming County Water and Sewer Authority.

“In August 2020, you will start to receive some funds” from the fees, said Bickhart at DuBoistown’s Thursday council meeting.

The fees will return money for “normal stormwater infrastructure repair work in the borough.”

“It will also return to you, over the next months and years, the monies that you front-ended already to put this program together,” he said.

Rather than a tax based on real estate value, which has no effect on stormwater, a fee calculated through ground-surface coverage is the most equitable way to raise funds, said Christine Weigle, executive director of the Lycoming County Water and Sewer Authority.

By averaging the normal square footage of a residence in DuBoistown, LCWSA was able to arrive at an equivalent residential unit.

One ERU could be equal to about $15 per month, with residents who own more impermeable surface area being required to pay more and those with less area, less of a fee.

Though neither the fee nor the structure has been finalized, Weigle said the boroughs are looking at a tiered format for simplicity.

Though complex, this program is more fair than a tax, which would raise the average monthly bill about 40 percent for all residents, she said.

Moving into budget season, DuBoistown and South Williamsport are now working with LCWSA to plan for the future.

“We’re trying to balance the cost of the program and the return of their money,” said Weigle. “We don’t want to inflate that ERU number just to get the borough their money back.”

Spearheading the project, LCWSA took the administrative lead in coordinating DuBoistown and South Williamsport. Both boroughs received a permit in Jan. 2019 only allowing increased pollution levels for 5 years past that date.

Entering into a memorandum of understanding, the two boroughs will operate separately in the execution of their public works, but will work together for in capital investments.

“You actually gain economies of scale, avoid duplication of services, enhances your opportunity for grants — and that is significant,” said Weigle, who added that individual competition for grants with the heavily populated areas to the north by either southern municipality will be nearly impossible.

South Williamsport, DuBoistown and LCWSA will soon work to coordinate their budgets, said Bickhart.

“We’ve been pushing ahead with that pretty fast,” he said to DuBoistown council members. “I think we’re in good shape and have given you everything that we can possibly give you at this point in time to be able to make that decision.”

A part of a sweeping reform, both federal and state agencies have issued harsh regulations on the pollution and solvent levels of water runoff from streets, parking lots, homes and others. The mandate is completely unfunded, with municipalities like DuBoistown — which is only among the first to be hit — to bear the full weight of associated costs.

This, paired with many municipalities’ historic unwillingness to raise taxes for projects has led to a “train wreck,” said Weigle.

“We’re not here trying to do projects because we like to do projects,” she said. “We are opposed to what you’re faced with, but we are here to find a solution to achieve compliance and address your aging infrastructure.”


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