Clarion Trickle-Down Stormwater Fee Under Consideration Since 2015

CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – The concept of charging a fee for stormwater in Clarion Borough is not a new one, with the borough starting to investigate such a fee in November of 2015. A separate feel has been trickling down since then.

(PHOTO: Jason Noto speaks during a Jan. 24, 2019, stormwater authority meeting in Clarion Borough. Photo by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)

The reason for the fee is still the same.

“One of the primary reasons municipalities are looking at separate authority is the aging infrastructure of storm sewers with collapsing pipes,” reported a November 23, 2015 story on “Clarion Borough spent $92,190.12 in 2015 on stormwater sewer replacements and faces a growing amount each year, and all of that comes from the general budget.”

The fee was discussed because of the possibility of Department of Environmental Protection legislation mandating better control of stormwater following directions from the federal government. However, the final federal legislation passed did not mandate addressing stormwater problems for municipalities the size of Clarion Borough.

Assessment of the fee would be based on the amount of stormwater generated by the property or the amount of impervious covering such as roofs and parking lots, the same as enacted last week by the authority.

Lee Stinnett of Salzmann Hughes, P.C. Attorneys at Law of Harrisburg, and Adrienne Vicari, P.E. presented the information and pitched their services at the public November 2015 council meeting at the request of then-Borough Secretary Mark Hall who met them at a conference. Stinnett and his firm continue as a paid solicitor for the authority, formed in 2016.

At the time of the 2015 presentation, other municipalities were considering forming authorities to help with the demands.

Facing anticipated costs of $5 million over the next five years for stormwater projects, the Clarion Borough Stormwater Authority formally adopted a seven-tier fee system related to the amount of stormwater entering the stormwater system in Clarion Borough on Thursday night, January 24.

One of the attraction back in 2015, and now, is that the fee is not a tax and could be charged to the many tax-exempt properties in the borough such as Clarion University, Clarion County, and Clarion Area School District.

“Now that we have the rate structure established, we’re going to be sending out a postcard with rates to be able to reach out to the property owners and let them know this is coming,” said Chairman Jason Noto.  “We’ll be able to check addresses with the mailing that we have and things like that to be able to give them that this is something that is upcoming.”

“We will have to talk on how we get some of the actual information out. There is an Excel spreadsheet of properties by address, but we’ll have to have some discussion to see if that is something we can share.”

Noto said that there was a flyover photo of Clarion Borough taken for the project that shows each property and where it falls on the fee tiers. The map is available for viewing at the Clarion Borough offices.

“I guarantee you that half the people in the room don’t know what we’re talking about,” offered Clarion resident Joseph Fusillo – who is also an engineer with the EADS Group. “When you talk about best management practices for stormwater, it can range from anything from a downspout into the ground to retention for detention basis. I just think that maybe you should put it out to the public a little bit better and educate them on things like what is impervious and what is permeable. I could put in a permeable driveway all day long and after a few flyovers, it’s going to look like it’s impervious. I just think educating the people, the public, on some of these terms would really help out. I would (be) happy to help.”

Noto welcomed his help.

With a stormwater fee bringing in some revenue, Noto was asked about what role grants will play in funding projects. One example is the $1.5 million stormwater project for Center Place.

“We’ve received a grant and loan package for the Center Place Project which is getting underway,” said Todd Colosimo. “It’s two-thirds grant and one-third loan. That grant and the project is in the borough’s name, but it will move this year to the authority for payment of the loan part. It is $1.5 million total for the entire package.”

The creation of the Stormwater Authority also means that all stormwater expenses are to be paid by the authority and not the borough. Even though some current and former council members sit on the authority, it is an independent group.

Clarion Borough, along with Clarion Township and Monroe Township worked for PA DEP for six years to sell the Clarion Municipal (Sanitary) Authority because DEP said it would not permit any new taps for building because of the lack of the capacity of the sewer plant. One of the factors in the capacity was a large amount of stormwater entering the sanitary sewer.  The authority was sold to Pennsylvania American Water with the understanding they would focus on eliminating the infiltration of stormwater and thus increasing the capacity.

Meanwhile, time took its toll on the aging and decaying stormwater system. PAWC did buy the stormwater system.

Clarion Borough did receive payment for its majority part of the old sewer authority and borough council approved use of some money for some smaller projects, along with retiring the debt of the borough maintenance buildings. The borough still has $1 million from the sale, but when asked if that could be used to deal with some of the expenses related to stormwater projects, Noto said no.

“Keep in mind that Center Place is approximately a million dollar project itself,” said Noto. “If we took their funds that we have and spend them there, the funds would then be gone and for the next project, we wouldn’t have any anything left to do it with. That money is being used for capital projects in other areas that we need. We need a sustainable model to be able to repair the ongoing issues as opposed to using that $1 million for and then we’re done.”

A special informational public meeting will be held on Wednesday, February 6, at 6:30 p.m. at the Main Street Center.

More information is available at the Clarion Borough Stormwater Authority on Facebook.

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