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Hot Topic: Municipal Stormwater Authorities

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Stormwater management issues may not be on the forefront of your mind, but recently the rules and regulations pertaining to stormwater have become more complex and stringent. So, if you’re land owner or a land developer in Pennsylvania, you should be aware of these recent changes.

Pennsylvania communities are beginning to roll out new ways to deal with stormwater management regulations, based on recently enacted stormwater bill (S.B. 351). This Bill grants local municipalities the ability to establish stormwater management authorities and assess utility fees associated with stormwater runoff. The Bill also allows municipal authorities to manage local stormwater issues and assist with implementation of underfunded mandates similar to the Municipal Separate Stormwater Management (MS4) permits. A “Stormwater Authority” can be a useful tool to local municipalities through the creation of a mechanism to generate revenue and implement new stormwater control measures.

By definition, a Stormwater Authority (SWA) is an entity formed to manage, plan, and construct stormwater controls to meet Federal and State Regulations. It is important to note that these authorities are not municipalities. They are public corporations that can finance and administer public projects, as well as borrow funds and issue fees. SWAs will allow municipalities to work together to address stormwater issues on a municipal and/or watershed boundary basis. They will most likely be funded by through user fees rather than taxes, which reduces reliance on general municipal funds. The establishment of SWAs also allows existing authorities to continue to operate without amendment to existing articles of incorporation.

Stormwater Authorities will likely be responsible for several tasks, including:

  • Implementing a customized Plan of Action that encompasses multiple communities.
  • Providing municipalities with potential sources of funding and expertise for stormwater planning projects that will help municipalities respond to the escalating complications and costs of stormwater management.
  • Establishing the the planning and management systems associated with funding, operations, construction, and maintenance of stormwater management devices.
  • Generating funds for stormwater management facility implementation.
  • Providing incentives for implementation of private stormwater management facilities that would reduce the cost to local governments and taxpayers — this could include credits against stormwater utility fees for installation of measures including rain gardens, infiltration trenches, and porous paving.

An important note regarding the possible implementation of SWAs is that costs, in theory, would be distributed more fairly across property owners than a typical tax structure. Unlike a standard “flat” tax across the board, Stormwater Authorities would most likely charge utility fees based on square footage of impervious surface area. In other words, the more impervious area a property contained, the greater the stormwater utility fee. It’s also important to note that since this charge is considered a “utility fee,” not a “tax,” even tax exempt properties would be required to pay the utility fee for use of the stormwater management systems.

As environmental impacts become an increasingly essential consideration in the development of land, it is vital to understand the role of Stormwater Authorities and associated stormwater management regulations and utility fees. SWAs will give municipalities the option to create more mandates, fund infrastructure, and provide incentives to reduce impervious areas. Stormwater management planning, design, implementation and on-going maintenance can no longer be an afterthought. As a matter of fact, with the addition of SWAs, dealing effectively with stormwater management issues will become an even greater part of the strategic and financial planning and design of almost every project.

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