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Stormwater commonly refers to runoff from rain, snow and ice melt. In the Township’s natural settings, stormwater slowly soaks into the ground surface or flows overland into adjacent streams. This process relies on an abundance of pervious surfaces such as grasslands, farmland, lawns, or other natural landscapes. In Cranberry Township, along with all other areas of the state, these natural surfaces are often replaced with impervious or hard surfaces such as streets, sidewalks, parking lots, homes or other similar structures. The result of an urbanized region is the reduced amount of natural area available to absorb stormwater. With an increase in impervious or hard surfaces, a larger amount of stormwater ends up flowing, at a swift rate, over these surfaces where it tends to collect chemicals and debris along the way. If not properly controlled, stormwater can overwhelm streams and embankments and cause major flooding in the Township, along with soil erosion and water pollution.
Cranberry Township has established a stormwater management system which will manage the movement of stormwater throughout the Township’s entire stormwater system. The proposed Stormwater Management Program identifies costs that are being generated to collect and convey stormwater. Those costs are then dispersed among all Township landowners with developed property. Aging infrastructure and changing regulations require regular maintenance, replacement, and upgrade projects annually. A plan is needed to address the millions of gallons of stormwater that is processed by the Township.
The proposed stormwater program is based on a base rate utility. This means that properties (both residential and non-residential) in the Township would be charged one base rate. This utility base rate has no relationship to property size but is in relation to costs necessary to operate the system. No singularly owned residential properties (single family homes, townhouses, etc.) would be proposed to pay anything more that the base user rate.
Landowners pay the base rate utility?
Well and septic landowners are being proposed to be a part of the program as the program is based on the stormwater system.
If the Township would use its General Fund, which is mostly funded through taxes, then tax-exempt properties would not be contributing to the entire system’s maintenance and sustainability. Funding for stormwater would then have to compete with other important spending priorities. To ensure that stormwater maintenance remains a priority, it is important to implement an adequate and stable revenue source. If the Growing stormwater costs remain in the General Fund, it would either result in a cut in basic services and/or a tax increase.
The General Fund dollars have not funded the stormwater program needs on a consistent basis nor fully funded the Program. The dollars have fluctuated over the years, depending upon the availability of capital dollars and the demand on General Fund dollars. It is anticipated the Township will need to consistently fund the Stormwater Management Program in the amount of $2M within the next several years. For 2020, the General Fund funds will continue to be assigned to stormwater projects. In 2021, the Stormwater Fee will start replacing those dollars from the General Fund. The General Fund will then be positioned to fund anticipated increased costs in public safety and road maintenance, the core purpose of the General Fund, without the need for a General Fund Tax increase.
To meet state or federal mandated requirements a proposed comprehensive stormwater management program is needed to fund and maintain projects that would maintain and improve stormwater infrastructure. If these requirements are not met, the Township is subject to very serious fines by the PA DEP and U.S. EPA. To meet mandates, the Township has implemented a pollution reduction plan that is compliant with their Municipal Separate Storm Water System (MS4) permit.
The Township will use a stormwater utility management approach system that would charge developed properties (taxable & tax exempt) a fair and equitable fee to support the costs of the management and capital improvements needed within the stormwater management system in compliance with the PA DEP and U.S. EPA regulations.
A developed property is a parcel that includes impervious surfaces – which could include pavement, gravel, parking lot, building, roof, brick, stone, asphalt, or cement. An impervious surface is anything that is an artificial structure which impedes the absorption of stormwater into the ground.
The Authority has been in place since 2014. Their responsibility is to support the municipal service needs of Cranberry Township. To be efficient in the administration of the Stormwater Management Program it is proposed the General Authority would partner with the Township of the implementation of the proposed stormwater management program through a utility management approach.
The proposed utility management approach supports the entire stormwater system throughout the Township. Each real estate parcel pays a utility charge in order to fund the capital improvements and maintenance of the public stormwater system.
Landowners, which includes homeowners, businesses, nonprofits, churches, colleges, school districts, and municipal agencies.
The Township will develop a stormwater budget based on a stormwater system assessment. The Township will develop a proposed rate that will help maintain and sustain the public stormwater system which is subject to billions of gallons of stormwater that passes through the system every year. Implementation of the utility is being implemented in a phased approach over the first two years of the program.
The proposed Stormwater Management Program will identify costs that are being generated to collect and convey stormwater and disperse these costs among all Township landowners. Year 1 will be 2020, and funds generated will go toward capital projects. The first-year proposed utility rate is estimated at $3 per month. The second year (2021) will address both capital and operational expenses that will be implemented with an estimated utility rate of $6 per month.
Commercial properties are assessed differently than residential properties. The more impervious area a property has, the more runoff flows from the property, placing more demand on the Township’s stormwater system. Billing will be based on the impervious surface area of each commercial property. This is a more equitable way to determine the fee than using property values and is a widely acceptable method of stormwater management for commercial businesses across the Commonwealth.
The Township will use aerial imagery from its GIS (Geographic Information Systems) computer software system to identify impervious surfaces.
Each property/parcel will be assessed the base rate. The Township cannot reduce the utility cost lower than the base rate. Properties will be responsible to support the Township’s public stormwater system as every developed parcel is using it for stormwater management.
The complete stormwater management utility system is composed of both private and public usage. Private stormwater utility systems are those that are owned, managed, and maintained under a private sector such as HOA’s, individual lot owners, etc. Public stormwater utility systems convey water from the private sector across the utility network to final outfalls where water quality and quantity are measured. Same as with the sewer, water, electrical and gas utilities, the connections from that utility into a private property are privately owned and maintained.
Taxes are collected from property owners, are based on the assessed value of their property, to cover costs for general Township services. Under a utility approach a base rate rather than a tax is established. The base rate is established on cost to operate and maintain the system. The costs are distributed across users who are served by the utility, which in this case is the current and proposed enhanced stormwater system.
Cranberry Township has been ordered by the Federal and State government to increase its responsibilities in managing stormwater runoff, just like thousands of other municipalities across the country. This unfunded mandate is incurring annual costs upon the Township to maintain its stormwater system in a manner acceptable to meet current regulations and permits. These new costs are not sustainable under the current financing system, creating emerging threats to maintaining the Township’s core services. The approach here is the same approach taken with sewer and water services, they are not paid for by the General Fund, but, based upon fair and equitable charges to the users of those systems. A utility system approach recommended as the most appropriate response to these mandates and adopted by thousands of municipalities across the country. Cranberry’s approach includes a partnership between its General Authority and Cranberry Township to implement this recommendation in the most fair and efficient manner possible.
The Township has been publicly discussing the new PA DEP and U.S. EPA requirements for the past two plus years and the financial impact upon the Township. The Township begun educating its residents as early as 2016 with articles in the Township’s quarterly newsletters. Those articles are linked on this page, Stormwater Management