Yaw: Commonwealth Refuses to Pay Millions in Municipal Stormwater Fees

HARRISBURG ­– The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania routinely refuses to pay stormwater management fees owed on dozens of state-owned properties, leaving local taxpayers footing the bill to the tune of millions of dollars, said Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23).

“The optics of this for the Commonwealth are horrible,” Sen. Yaw said. “We passed laws that require municipalities to safely manage stormwater runoff only to leave taxpayers on the hook for our share of the bill.”

Officials from Capitol Region Water told the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on Tuesday that the Commonwealth owes them nearly $387,000 for stormwater fees calculated on 22 state owned properties since October 2020.

Across the river in Cumberland County, the Hampden Sewer Authority said the state owes more than $1.2 million for stormwater management fees assessed since October 2015. It’s a similar story in municipalities across Pennsylvania.

Local officials told the committee both state and federal laws require Pennsylvania’s 2,500-plus municipalities to manage stormwater runoff, but only the U.S. government pays its share of the fees.

The Commonwealth’s failure to pay delays critical upgrades to stormwater infrastructure, including Harrisburg’s century-old combined system that routinely discharges household sewage and waste into the Susquehanna River, said J. Marc Kurowski, chairman of Capitol Region Water’s Board of Directors.

“I can tell you firsthand that residents and business owners in Harrisburg are not happy about what the Commonwealth is doing,” Kurowski said. “It is hard to ignore the giant domed complex that sits right in the heart of this city. People want to know why the Commonwealth is doing what it is doing when other tax-exempt properties, including our local school district, other tax-exempt property owners, and the city itself, are stepping up to meet their obligations. And, honestly, I am at a loss about what to tell them.”

The Commonwealth owns more than 40% of Harrisburg’s real estate, including 5.4 million square feet of impervious services subject to the city’s stormwater fee that generates 120 million gallons of runoff annually. The state’s failure to pay forces city residents to cover the gap, which represents about 10% of Capitol Region Water’s billings.

And the problem isn’t limited to properties, local officials said. Dr. Horace Strand, executive manager of the Stormwater Authority of the City of Chester, said his attempts to negotiate payment from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for runoff and flooding damage on state highways running through the city has also been unsuccessful.

“Thus far, PennDot refuses to meet with us,” Strand told the committee. “Our response from PennDot has been a long letter that they consider these fees to be taxes rather than fees, and they have no intentions of paying these fees. Since we are a small growing authority, these fees are much needed to help us maintain our operations and provide the services we provide the City of Chester daily.”

PennDOT maintains nearly 40,000 miles of roadway throughout the Commonwealth, meaning many other municipalities could be facing the same struggle, Sen. Yaw said.

“We will see what we can do about getting someone’s attention and putting our money where our mouth is,” Yaw said. “I thank all of the presenters for their candor in discussing this issue with our committee.”

To watch the hearing in its entirety, CLICK HERE.

CONTACT: Nick Troutman, Chief of Staff, 717-787-3280