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Allentown to prepare property owners for impact of stormwater fees

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The Allentown Department of Public Works installed a rain garden on Albright Avenue to help ease flooding problems in the area. (Photo courtesy of ADPW)
The Allentown Department of Public Works installed a rain garden on Albright Avenue to help ease flooding problems in the area. (Photo courtesy of ADPW)

Allentown Department of Public Works officials will be conducting a series of five public meetings starting Monday to inform business, private and nonprofit property owners in the city about the implementation of a fee to fund city's stormwater services beginning in 2018.

The fee, if approved, would be $20 per 500 square feet of impervious surface, with potential for discounts.

The Stormwater Impact Fee, which would be charged to property tax bills starting Jan. 1 if approved by city council, would be used to fund city stormwater improvements and services that are mandated under new Environmental Protection Agency laws, which more strictly regulate the quality and quantity of stormwater being dumped into area streams.

All Pennsylvania municipalities will need to meet the new guidelines, however, Allentown falls under a Phase I permit. Allentown and Philadelphia are the only two municipalities in Pennsylvania to fall under the more comprehensive Phase I. Bethlehem and Easton, for example, fall under Phase II permits.

That means more extensive and expensive changes for the Allentown stormwater management system than those being required of other municipalities.

Craig Messinger, director of public works for Allentown, said the fees are needed to cover the large amount of work that is being required by the new regulations – work that he said has been needed for a long time.

He said there is already more than a $70 million backlog in work that needs to be completed to keep pollutants that are washed into city sewers from ending up in area streams and the local water supply.

Messinger said that the fees being charged are for the impervious surfaces of all property, which are the main culprit in stormwater runoff issues.

The fee is being charged equally to businesses, private citizens, nonprofits, churches and even city-owned properties.

“Everyone is being treated the same,” Messinger said.

The fee is $20 per 500 square feet of impervious surface. For example a 1,000-square-foot home on a 1-acre lot that has a grass yard counts as two impervious units. That’s one unit per 500-square-feet of impervious surface. The grass isn’t counted. That homeowner will be assessed a $40 fee, which will be added to property tax bills.

Entities, such as churches, that don’t pay property taxes would get a separate bill.

The biggest impact will be felt by property owners with large impervious surfaces, such as shopping centers or car sales lots, but Messinger said there are things that those property owners can do to reduce the fees they have to pay.

For example, a developer looking to locate five businesses on a 100-acre tract of land could show it has met certain requirements – known as best managed practices – for stormwater control.

Messinger said if a property has its BMP certificate, it will automatically receive a 10 percent reduction in stormwater fees.

“A property owner can also go above and beyond what is required and save up to 50 percent,” Messinger said.

He said any project that would improve the quality or decrease the quantity of stormwater runoff from a property would count toward discounted fees.

He gave an example of a rain garden the city installed along Albright Avenue to help curb bad flooding in the area. The garden is designed to aid drainage and is filled with native plants that filter pollutants.

It’s not something a property owner has to do alone, either.

“We want this to be a partnership,” Messinger said. The city will help fund property improvements that will improve stormwater control, but then the discount on fees would be slightly less.

The upcoming presentations will be given to explain the reasons for the fee, calculation methodology and ways to obtain credits to lower the fee charged to a property owner, Messinger said.

The meetings are scheduled as follows:

  • Monday, Dec. 4, 5-6:30 p.m. – Allentown Public Library, Community Room, 1210 Hamilton St.
  • Monday, Dec. 4, 7:30-9 p.m. – East Side Youth Center, Social Hall, 1140 E. Clair St.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 5, 1-2:30 p.m. - City Council Chambers  435 Hamilton St.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 5, 5-6:30 p.m. – Episcopal Church of the Mediator, 1620 W. Turner St.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 5, 7:30-9 p.m. – Mack South Fire Station, 1902 Lehigh St.

Those interested are asked to RSVP by calling Public Works at 610-437-7587 and indicating which meeting they would like to attend.

The city earlier reached out to the projected top 100 ratepayers offering to meet with them to inform them about the implementation of the fee.

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Stacy Wescoe

Stacy Wescoe

Writer and online editor Stacy Wescoe has her finger on the pulse of the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley and keeps you up-to-date with technology and trends, plus what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler — and on social media. She can be reached at stacyw@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4104. Follow her on Twitter at @morestacy and on Facebook. Circle Stacy Wescoe on .

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