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The most frequent complaint voiced by residents and heard by Borough Council concerns excess stormwater. Ebensburg Borough simply lacks any effective means for controlling stormwater. In the few areas of town in which stormwater basins exist, the main line is not large enough to handle the heavy flows. This results in stormwater shooting up out of the ground from those mains, and large pools of flooding water in intersections. Our inability to manage the excess stormwater also results in damage to private properties including flooded garages, yards and basements.
Improvements to Ebensburg Borough’s stormwater management capabilities were deemed to be absolutely necessary and long overdue. These necessary improvements are expensive, costing as much as $7.2 million. Ebensburg and other municipalities have delayed making stormwater improvements because the general fund budget could not handle a project of that size; a separate source of revenue was needed.
Pennsylvania’s Act 68 of 2013 corrected that situation. Stormwater management can now be administered by municipal authorities as a utility, just as our own Ebensburg Municipal Authority handles water and wastewater matters. A separate utility fee can now be established to pay for stormwater improvements.
Borough Council commissioned a study to identify the problem areas in town. Again, the cost to fix all of those stormwater deficiencies is $7.2 million. That is obviously more than Ebensburg can afford, with or without the new stormwater fee. They then determined which of those areas were of the highest priority. Those three priority projects have a cost of $2.2 million.
Concentrating on those three priority projects, the study concluded that an annual fee of $96 was sufficient to pay for debt service associated with the project and for maintenance costs. That was critical, as Borough Council had insisted that the new stormwater fee not exceed $100/year for residences.
The fee was determined by randomly selecting 10% of residential properties within the borough and averaging the actual amount of impervious surface that exists. All residential properties will be assessed a fee of $96 annually. For commercial and tax-exempt properties, the actual amount of impervious surface at each and every property was measured. Those properties will be assessed a fee based on that actual impervious surface which will be, in most cases, higher than the residential fee.
Simply put, as a Borough we must address these stormwater issues. Unfortunately current budgets and taxation levels do not provide the needed revenue. By assessing this fee as a utility, all property owners are rightly being asked to pay their fair share – including those who are currently exempt from paying real estate taxes. While this may create a hardship for some government agencies or non-profits, it does spread the burden across a wider pool of property owners, thus easing the load on everyone. In fact, if the needed revenue were to be sought through normal tax channels, the effective tax rate would need to increase by 8½ mils – a jump of over 65%.
In July 2014, Borough Council enacted a new ordinance establishing a Stormwater Management Program and User Fee to provide a dedicated funding source to more adequately maintain and reinvest in the Borough’s aging stormwater infrastructure. The ordinance established an annual fee for every developed parcel in the Borough, regardless of taxable status, to defray the costs of the Borough’s Stormwater Management Program. For the first year, the bi-monthly fee will be $8 ($48 annually) before rising to $16 ($96 annually) on January 1, 2016.