Monroeville Mall, Gateway among those appealing new fee
Many Monroeville property owners are fighting a yearly fee they were assessed recently for the municipality’s new Pollution Control and Flood Reduction, or MS4, program.
The deadline to appeal those assessments with Monroeville was Feb. 15. As of Feb. 20, council has not appointed members of a three-person appeals board, so Manager Tim Little, Jamey Storey, staff engineer and code officer Paul Hugus meet weekly to review the appeals.
The fee will fund Monroeville’s newly implemented MS4 program, which will generate $3.2 million this year, officials have said. The money will be used for flood reduction projects, infrastructure updates and construction of a new MS4 building.
Fees were determined by calculating a property’s “equivalent residential units,” or ERUs. One ERU is equivalent to 2,385 square feet, or $120 a year.
Owners of vacant properties are charged a flat rate of $30.
Owners of larger properties were assessed individually to calculate how many ERUs are present.
As of the appeals deadline, 39 property owners have filed 61 appeals with Monroeville, according to the municipality’s appeal log, obtained by the Tribune-Review through the Right to Know Law.
Here is the breakdown of the appeals by property types:
• Commercial – 21
• Residential – 19
• School – 12
• Religious institutions – 8
• Unlisted – 1
The Monroeville Mall owner, CBL Monroeville Partner LP, appealed 10 assessments of its properties.
It owns 4.4 million square-feet of impervious surface in Monroeville and will be charged nearly $223,000 a year, according to a Monroeville document that lists the top 20 MS4 fee payers.
The mall’s appeals are on properties that include paved rights-of-way, residential vacant land, commercial vacant land with auxiliary buildings and two of the properties are not owned by CBL Monroeville Partner LP.
Gateway School District filed appeals on 11 properties. It owns 1.1 million square feet of impervious surface and will be charged around $92,000 a year.
The school district’s appeals are on properties that include vacant land and all of its schools.
AIU’s Sunrise School in Monroeville sidestepped the municipality’s appeal process altogether and filed an appeal with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas because it is asking a judge to exempt the school from the fee.
The school faces $8,550 in MS4 fees for two of its properties and it argues the state school code exempts school districts from “every kind of state, county, city, borough, or other tax, as well as from all costs or expenses for paving, curbing, sidewalks, sewers, or other municipal improvements,” according to court records.
CBL, Gateway and AIU’s solicitor, Anthony Giglio of Andrews and Price, did not respond to a request for comment.
Residents speak up
Monroeville resident Tim Skoog owns a vacant piece of property that abuts his home’s property.
He expected a $30 bill in the mail, but when it came the bill said he owed $60 on the grass and gravel parcel.
“If they’re going to charge people for an empty piece of land, it should be uniform — right across the board. I don’t understand how they came up with the amounts, that’s all,” he said.
Wallace Reed has a similar situation, but his bill said he owes $120.
“That property is totally vacant. It was a house and garage, but they’ve been demolished. That was around three or four years ago,” Reed said.
Darlene and Edmond White have argued they shouldn’t have to pay the $30 fee for a vacant strip of land in their backyard.
Darlene White said the municipality used to own the strip that runs through the backyards of several homes on Grandview and Beechwood avenues as a throughway for a utility line.
“It was never developed, so (Monroeville) gave each neighbor a piece. They didn’t want it anymore … there’s nothing on it,” she said.
She said that deal went down before they moved into the house five years ago.
The municipality sent her a letter in the mail Feb. 12 denying her appeal.
Little said he expected the appeals this year because the MS4 program is new and many do not understand it. Council unanimously enacted the law in October and property owners received their first bills in January.
“Some of these are black and white and some (appeals) have been granted because pervious land was seen as impervious,” Little said.
The appeals that are gray areas, he said, might end up in court, however.
He said he will continue to review the appeals, a process that is free to residents.
Meanwhile, council is still seeking three members to serve on the MS4 appeals board.
So far, one resident has expressed interest.
Valerie Warning, a Gateway School Board member, requested a three-year term. The terms will be staggered in one-, two- and three-year terms.
Warning did not respond to a request for comment.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter .