Capital Region Water testifies before Senate committee examining challenges municipal authorities face in trying to get the state to meet its own clean water obligations
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is refusing to pay $32,246 per month, or $386,956 per year, in stormwater fees assessed on its 22 accounts totaling nearly 5.4 million square feet of impervious area within Capital Region Water’s jurisdiction, according to testimony presented by CRW before the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee today.
That means residential and commercial customers will have to pay the difference to help fund capital improvement projects designed to upgrade outdated and undersized water and wastewater infrastructure and fulfill state and federal clean water requirements to prevent runoff from entering the Susquehanna River and Paxton Creek.
“I can tell you firsthand that residents and business owners in Harrisburg are not happy about what the Commonwealth is doing. People want to know how the Commonwealth can get away with this when others are stepping up to meet their obligations. And, honestly, I am at a loss about what to tell them,” CRW Board Chairman Marc Kurowski testified.
In June 2019, as part of its City Beautiful H2O Program, CRW proposed a Stormwater Fee Proposal and Implementation Plan as an equitable way to meet federal and state clean water requirements. After three formal public hearings, dozens of community meetings and forums, and meetings with some of the largest and most affected property owners, including the Commonwealth, CRW enacted a new stormwater fee that took effect Oct. 1, 2020.
Capital Region Water’s stormwater fee is projected to raise about $5.3 million annually in dedicated funds specifically for stormwater upgrades and operations that will help to alleviate the localized flooding that residents experience — but only if all ratepayers, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, fulfill their obligation.
“Capital Region Water does not earn a profit and invests its revenue into operating and improving the Harrisburg area’s water and wastewater systems. So, the commonwealth’s failure to pay leaves a huge gap in our budget and puts a terrible strain on our stormwater operations,” CRW Chief Executive Officer Charlotte Katzenmoyer testified.
Unlike most municipal authorities, Capital Region Water faces unique challenges because of the high percentage of state properties within its jurisdiction — about 10 percent of its stormwater billings are related to government properties — and because roughly one in three residents lives below the poverty rate. The state’s refusal to pay hits them hardest.
The state contends it has no obligation to pay stormwater fees for its properties within Capital Region Water’s jurisdiction — or those in the jurisdictions of other municipal authorities — because stormwater fees, unlike water and sewer fees, are a tax to which the Commonwealth is immune. But the assessment is flawed and counter to established case law.
Taxes finance general government operations. A fee is distinctly limited to the costs of a specific service and must be reasonably proportional to the charge. As opposed to generating revenue for an array of uses as a tax would, the stormwater fee is raising dedicated revenue that will be redirected back into the system for specifically stormwater projects.
The Commonwealth’s refusal to pay also is in stark contrast to the federal government, which pays stormwater fees. The Clean Water Act, Section 313 (c), was amended in 2010 to make clear the responsibility of federal agencies to pay fees for stormwater programs.
“At Capital Region Water, we are working to meet our obligations for federal clean water requirements, improve water quality locally, and reduce localized flooding for our residents and those downstream, and address polluted runoff. Our residents and businesses are doing their part, too. All we are asking for is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to do the same,” Kurowski said.
Capital Region Water was the first of several authorities and organizations to testify before the Senate panel, which is examining challenges with stormwater fees and implementation across Pennsylvania.
To read Testimony from Capital Region Water CEO, Charlotte Katzenmoyer and CRW Board of Directors Chairman, Marc Kurowski click here
To watch a recording of the hearing click here
To learn more about City Beautiful H2O click here