Council figuring out how to refund storm water fees
Greencastle property owners will be getting back at least some of the money they've paid for the borough's storm water management fee.
All borough council members indicated at a workshop Tuesday they want to refund — whether some or all — of the $630,000 that's been collected since the fee was enacted in 2019.
Tuesday's meeting was the first of two work sessions scheduled concerning the fee and the borough's storm water utility in light of a five-year waiver the borough received in May from MS4 (municipal separate storm sewer system) Chesapeake Bay sediment reduction and other pollution management requirements.
The focus of Tuesday's meeting was the history of MS4 and the creation of a storm water utility and its function. That information will factor into next week's workshop when council will discuss how to move forward, including scenarios for refunds. Possibilities mentioned by Steve Miller, council president, include a total refund minus expenses or a partial rebate.
The workshop will begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 30, in the Rescue Hose Co. meeting room. A decision is planned at the regular council meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, July 6, in borough hall.
Many municipalities in Pennsylvania, including Greencastle and Antrim Township, are facing state mandates to reduce to sediment in the Chesapeake Bay under their Pollution Reduction Plans and MS4.
The borough enacted the storm water fee last year, based on the impervious surface of each property, and created a storm water utility. The majority of the money was earmarked for the MS4 project, estimated at $2 million. However, some of the money was for other storm water management within the borough, such as flooding in the Orchard development, and associated administrative costs.
The average residential fee was $172 a year and the Greencastle-Antrim School District was facing the largest bill, $47,000 a year.
The borough started collecting the money last summer. However, at a joint meeting in November, both the borough and township suspended collection pending common sense clarification from the state on MS4 and its implementation.
The borough subsequently applied for the waiver, which was granted in May by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, extending the deadline through May 12, 2025.
Information and discussion
Borough Manager Lorraine Hohl presented the the MS4 timeline, dating back to August 2015 when the borough was notified by DEP it was designated an "urbanized area" and would need to reduce the sediment it sends to the Chesapeake Bay and implement other storm water management measures, including public education.
Her presentation included budget figures significantly lower than when the storm water utility was created. For example, the original budget created in 2018-19 set expenditures for 2021 at $922,397. The current working document budgets $189,189 for 2021 with the elimination of the MS4 streambank restoration project, storm water management work in the Orchard development and public education.
The storm water utility budget still includes a rain garden project at the Lilian S. Besore Memorial Library and a proactive approach to maintaining the borough's storm water management infrastructure. Before the storm water utility was created, storm water management was paid for through the general fund supported by property taxes rather than a fee.
Councilman Duane Kinzer continued to voice his opposition to the $110,000 rain garden project, for which the borough has received a $50,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
The borough has a memorandum of understanding with the library, which most of the other council members favor upholding. Hohl noted the rain garden can be used toward future MS4 requirements and without it the library is not in storm water management compliance.
Instead of big projects like the Orchard, the public works director has come up with a proactive rather than reactive service, maintenance and replacement plan, Hohl explained.
"I feel we've learned a lot about MS4 in the last year,"Kinzer said. "I don't feel we'll be anywhere near having to charge this much."
Future of MS4
"All the waiver's done is bought us five years," said Brian Harbaugh, owner of Precision Manufacturing and Engineer, who has been an active opponent of MS4 and its costs, including making his case known to lawmakers in Harrisburg.
He said Greencastle needs a complete exemption because there is no way the community can handle the mandates it is facing.
He offered to help, adding he has fought MS4 for over a year and will continue to fight it.
Mayor Ben Thomas Jr. gave a homework assignment to the nearly 20 local residents in the audience. He urged them to contact local state lawmakers Rep. Paul Schemel and Sen. Judy Ward and especially U.S. Congressman John Joyce. MS4 is related to the U.S. Clean Water Act so ultimately putting it on hold or eliminating it rests at the federal level.