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Monroeville

Monroeville council exploring infrastructure improvement funding options

Dillon Carr
| Friday, June 22, 2018, 11:45 a.m.

Monroeville is trying to figure out how to pay for its aging $36 million stormwater infrastructure.

“As it sits, (the infrastructure) is severely deteriorating,” said Councilman Ron Harvey, who chairs a committee dedicated to exploring the issue.

Council voted this month to seek bids from engineering firms that will determine the municipality's cost to implement a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System — or MS4 — Pollution Reduction Plan for the next five years.

According to an existing report prepared by Moon-based MS Consultants last fall, the PRP will cost $37.7 million, or $7.5 million per year. The PRP is only one part of the multi-faceted MS4 program. That cost includes reducing the municipality's 801,302 pounds of sediment per year at $47 per pound by using bioswales, retention ponds, permeable pavement, street sweeping, stream restoration and forested buffers. To see the entire plan, visit bit.ly/2IdKc6J.

Monroeville used that report to obtain a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection that allows the municipality to control how much pollution flows into rivers and streams in accordance with national and state mandates.

Monroeville obtained the permit from DEP in March, Manager Tim Little said. But Little thinks the numbers, in terms of cost and poundage, presented in MS Consultants' report could be too high.

“The expense side is going to drive what we're going to charge to a point,” Little said. “The work is going to have to be done; that's a mandate coming down from the DEP. How we fund it and how we do it is the question. If we do institute a fee, we want to be reasonable.”

Harvey said he and Councilwoman Linda Gaydos have met with officials in 10 meetings since January to discuss funding options for the plan, a process that he called “one of the most complex issues assigned to council.”

The committee, comprised of Harvey and Gaydos, along with Little, Municipal Solicitor Bob Wratcher, Engineering Director Paul Hugus and Staff Engineer Jamie Storey, was formed in January to determine ways to pay for the MS4 program.

Harvey, the committee's chair, declined to offer details about how the committee plans to pay for the program, which could include a fee schedule, increased property taxes or a combination of both. He said the plan will cost Monroeville “several millions of dollars.”

“We have 20 square miles here. That's a lot of storm water management in Monroeville,” he said.

Deputy Director of Three Rivers Wet Weather Beth Dutton said most municipalities choose to establish a stormwater utility fee by calculating “equivalent residential units,” or ERUs.

Since 2011, Mt. Lebanon has charged single-family homes, townhouses and duplexes a flat $8 a month for a 2,400-square-foot ERU. Larger properties are estimated and divided into ERUs. An owner with three times as much impervious surface would pay $24 a month.

Under the ERU method, each parcel in Monroeville would be evaluated for the amount of impervious surface that contributes to stormwater runoff, including tax-exempt properties.

“Stormwater fees are becoming more common,” Dutton said. “Over 1,500 communities in the U.S. have realized that's what they need to do for stormwater management. Right now we call it the unfunded mandate … which puts municipalities in a difficult position.”

She referenced a survey conducted by Western Kentucky University in 2016 that found seven stormwater utility fee programs in Pennsylvania. According to the survey, most monthly fees are between $5 and $10.

Although Harvey has not released specific details on whether the municipality will implement a fee or hike property taxes, he has said the committee has consulted with Mt. Lebanon.

He also said at a recent voting meeting that the committee will “shortly present an ordinance” and other documents that address billing issues and stormwater fees. He did not specify when the ordinance, which is required to establish a stormwater utility fee, would be presented.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325.

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