Rainwater System Repair Begins: Additional Charges Will Appear in October | News, Sports, Jobs



Go to almost any street corner in downtown Williamsport and peek inside the sump pit or entrance.

Many times while doing so, leaves or muddy debris can be seen covering the opening, or a few feet down, plant life popping up next to cups, trash, and broken pipes.

Fixing them and keeping them working is just one of many tasks given to the Williamsport Health Authority, as the city of Williamsport transferred ownership of the stormwater system last year.

It’s also a much bigger problem than an authority truck coming to pick up the mess or replace a small piece of broken section.

In fact, it’s a multi-million dollar problem, one that will have a financial impact – very soon – on every individual homeowner in the city.

Much of the city’s stormwater system has reached the end of its useful life and is not functioning properly, which means many pipes, inlets, catch basins and conveyances that carry water to local waterways and the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, Williamsport Sanitary Authority officials said ahead of Wednesday’s town hall meetings to explain a new round of charges that will be imposed on residential property owners and management non-residential property.

A 100 year problem

Now that the health authority, which is responsible for maintaining and improving the system to ensure its proper functioning and to comply with the strict regulations required by state and federal regulatory agencies, owns the system, it has begun to perform major repairs and planning more.

The health authority is tasked with rehabilitating and operating a malfunctioning system, said Michael Miller, the authority’s executive director with Eric Smithgall, the authority’s director of engineering.

Simply put, the authority “to have to” complete projects mandated to comply with state regulations, Miller said.

On a larger scale, it is an unfunded mandate from the federal government to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

But an authority cannot legally levy a property tax, as a city or municipal government can and does.

Instead, the authority must rely on fees — such as those for water and sewer supplies — which, for Williamsport property owners, arrive on a monthly basis.

A “reliable” source of funding

For the implementation of the management and repair of the storm water system to work properly, the authority needs a “reliable” source of funds.

As the authority tries to secure various local, state and federal grants to reduce stormwater costs for customers, the authority is set to introduce what it believes to be a “just and fair” tariff structure.

Such a rate (charge) is needed to pay for system repairs and upgrades, Miller said.

For city customers, the bill received from the water authority includes the water and/or sanitation service charge.

Starting in October, city customers will see additional charges for stormwater service for city properties, Miller said.

This fee will apply to two categories of owners: residential and non-residential, he said.

Residential property owners will be charged a flat rate of $10 per month, with no exceptions and no changes for the next five years, Miller said.

A residential property is defined as having less than three residential units on a tax lot, such as a single family home or a duplex.

An apartment building with three or more units is considered non-residential property for stormwater billing purposes.

Any non-residential property will be billed according to the impermeable area of ​​its land. Non-residential property is defined as property that does not meet the definition of residential property. Examples include, but are not limited to: apartment buildings, commercial businesses, non-profit organizations, and industrial properties.

Examples of non-residential properties with the most impervious area include SEDA-Council of Governments Joint Rail Authority, Pennsylvania College of Technology, UPMC, and Lycoming College.

The authority is able to bill non-profit organizations, which are among the largest sources of impermeable areas. Although these organizations are exempt from property tax, the stormwater fee collects a fair share of revenue from all sources of impermeable areas – such as the roof, parking lot, etc.

In addition to general system operations and maintenance, these funds will be used to replace about 1% per year of stormwater infrastructure that is in poor condition, including drains, Smithgall said.

This will allow the authority to meet the regulatory requirements of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, he said.

Customers who will be affected can attend a public meeting hosted by the health authority Wednesday at the Trade and Transit Center II, 100 W. Third St. on the third floor. The appointment for commercial, industrial and NPO customers is at 4 p.m. and the 7 p.m. appointment will be for residents who will see an additional $10 on their water-sewer-stormwater bill per month. That works out to $120 a year for residential customers or $10 a month, officials said.

Customers can also visit the authority’s website at www.wmwa-wsa.org/stormwater which will display an interactive map, to find each property, and a frequently asked questions section.

This is a flat fee of $10 per month for residential customers in the city, and can be paid once a year or monthly with the regular billing cycle.

This fee does not apply to customers living out of town, officials said.

Authority staff met regularly with several nonprofit CEOs and managers to alert them to the charge and purpose of the fees, Miller said.

The authority also sent an information letter to every residential property and non-residential property in Williamsport, Miller said.

The fixed $10 fee will be instituted for the next five years, he said.

The authority will start training sanitary workers on stormwater repair and have an additional team dedicated solely to stormwater maintenance and operation.

Without these repairs, not only is the authority failing to meet the requirements of state and federal regulatory agencies, but the city will continue to experience water pooling in the streets, sinkholes appearing in the streets, flooding in the basements of houses and many other problems associated with backing up and polluting the drainage system.

Sanitary and stormwater personnel are used to televising inside the network and plan to purchase additional equipment to complete the job. Much of the work done proactively will not impact traffic with major detours. This happens when water mains and storm water systems are not maintained and replaced, Smithgall said.

“The authority has regulatory obligations”, said Miller. He is not unsympathetic to customers in the city in these difficult economic times, he added.

The authority has drawn up a formula it deems fair and equitable for residents and non-residents alike, he said.

Residents can do their part by putting only clean water into storm drain systems. Pollutants such as grass clippings, which contain levels of nitrogen that make the problem worse, and paint, oil, grease and other chemicals harm streams, rivers and watersheds of the bay.

This is an operation and maintenance that not only begins to carry out necessary repairs of dysfunctional stormwater systems in the city, but will help protect the environment, improve the quality of drainage, prevent flooding and improve the quality of life across the city, he said.



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Melissa C. Keyes