Storm sewer fees explained:
In 2014, Chambersburg’s Town Council adopted a plan for the creation of a new storm sewer utility. It was one of the first such utilities to form pursuant to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to manage and regulate storm water in smaller communities.
This new utility is an operating fund of the Borough. It is similar in scope and mission to various other Borough utilities managed by staff under the authority and direction of Town Council.
A committee of citizens, businesspeople, leaders, and stakeholders was formed. They regularly met over a year to come up with an implementation plan to fund the new utility; and the required work of the state-permitted Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4).
How it started
Begun in 2015, Chambersburg’s storm sewer utility is unique in Central Pennsylvania. While the Borough has operated a storm sewer system for almost a century, available tax resources supported the system; and the plan was to establish a separate fee structure where all property owners, rather than just the 60% that pay real estate taxes, would help cover its cost of operation.
In 2015, following renewal of the Borough’s Pennsylvania DEP MS4 permit, the Borough carved the system out of the General Fund and established a fee-based utility department in a separate enterprise fund.
The new utility fee began in January 2015. A Storm Sewer Pollution Control Fee was added to Borough utility bills that year.
Chambersburg is unique in that it is the only municipality in Pennsylvania to operate almost all its utilities. These non-profit community utilities provide water, sewer, electricity, natural gas, and trash to households and businesses. Their reliability is award winning, nationally recognized, and the rates are remarkably low.
A Chambersburg utility customer with both natural gas and electric service from the Borough might save as much as $1,000 per year. That’s comparing their bill to utility customers just outside the Borough.
Furthermore, in 2022, the Borough contemplates no increases to electric or natural gas rates. The borough has the second lowest residential electric rate in Pennsylvania. It gas the lowest natural gas residential rate in the Commonwealth.
Storm Sewer pollution control fees
The Borough experienced little controversy in the implementation of the Storm Sewer Pollution Control Fee in 2015. Because of the good work of the citizen committee and the foresight of Town Council, the Borough has eased residents and businesses into both understanding the necessity of the fee, and the requirements of having a fully functioning storm sewer utility.
Chambersburg has dozens of miles of storm sewer pipes, channels, inlets, catch basins, ponds, etc. They require inspection and maintenance as a part of the State permit. But it is also the important necessity to manage and respect storm water and its impact on the community environment.
Some communities have delayed the implementation of storm sewer system management. This was never an option in Chambersburg’s large urbanized environment.
In 2022, Chambersburg Town Council will invest $2 million of Federal American Rescue Plan Act funding into necessary projects to address long-neglected capital needs in the system.
Changing the rate structure
In addition to Federal funding, the Chambersburg Storm Sewer Utility has undergone a three-year process to change their rate structure. As originally contemplated by the 2014 study that necessitated their establishment, next year the utility will switch from what has been a flat rate (per sanitary sewer connection) to a rate based upon impervious area.
This new methodology may result in a significant change for commercial, industrial, and institutional customers (shopping centers, schools, churches, the hospital, etc.), which may all see significant changes in their Storm Sewer Pollution Control Fee based on the attributes of their impervious area on their tax parcels.
The change for single-family residential customers will not be noticeable. Under the old system, only single-family residential customers were paying a fair fee.
Now, every type of property will pay their fair share, based upon their relationship to the impervious area of an average single-family residential home. Impervious areas are made up of surfaces that prevent the percolation of water into the ground, including buildings and paved areas on your property.
To determine your new fee the Borough digitally mapped impervious areas for every property. Then a team determined an “equivalent residential unit” or ERU value for each non-residential property. In essence, how many houses is your non-residential tax parcel (shopping centers, schools, churches, the hospital, etc.) equivalent to in comparison to the average impervious surface of a single-family home.
This ERU value determines both how many homes your non-residential property is equivalent to and your new monthly fee. Beginning in 2022, the new rate will be expressed in single-family home “equivalent residential units” or ERU.
ERU’s: A fair yardstick
Chambersburg and hundreds of other communities have adopted the ERU as the fair yardstick for allocating the cost of operating a storm sewer utility.
In January 2022, the Storm Sewer Utility envisions the ERU value being set at $5 per single-family home. Therefore, the average single family home will see no change in their Storm Sewer Pollution Control Fee as the flat fee is already $5 per month. The results for commercial, industrial, and institutional customers may be much more significant; based on the size of their lot and impervious area created by the structures on the lot.
For example, if your commercial building is the equivalent of five single-family homes, your rate may increase from $5 per month to $25 per month (in this example, the tax parcel might be charged currently $5 for one sanitary sewer connection, but may become charged $5 for each of five ERU). The proposed 2022 budget contemplates this transition in January 2022. Commercial, industrial, and institutional customers should determine their ERU values now.
The utility will soon be mailing a notice to each non-single-family residential customer. That notice will inform them of their property’s ERU value; as determined by the amount of impervious area on their lot. If you do not own property inside the Borough, this issue does not affect you. Furthermore, if you own a single-family home inside the Borough, you will notice no change in your storm sewer fees.
How to reduce the fees
It is important to note that there will be ways to reduce the amount of your new Storm Sewer Pollution Control fee. Installing Best Management Practice facilities and maintaining them on your property could reduce the contribution of stormwater and pollutants to the Borough storm sewer system. It could also reduce your rate.
Removing buildings or parking lots from the impervious area is another way for property owners to reduce their fees. That will establish a new Storm Sewer Pollution Control Fee.
Town Council is working to prepare commercial, industrial, and institutional utility customers for the introduction of the new Storm Sewer Pollution Control Fee calculation methodology.
Single-family homeowners will see no impact as they are already paying their fair share of these expenses. This was the recommendation of the citizen committee in 2019. Town Council delayed implementation of the change to 2022 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several fliers and mailers have already gone out to every property in the Borough. Staff has also invited large non-residential property owners to focus group sessions in 2020 and 2021. Town Council needs to adopt an Ordinance in late 2021 to make these changes effective. We want to make sure that non-single-family property owners know that this change is coming soon.
Please contact Andy Stottlemyer, Storm Sewer System Manager, at 717-251-2434 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions regarding your property’s ERU value or the Borough’s Storm Sewer Utility fees.
Jeffrey Stonehill, Borough Manager/Director of Utilities
Borough of Chambersburg