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Mt. Lebanon considers stormwater fee

| Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010

Mt. Lebanon could be one of the first municipalities in Western Pennsylvania to enact a special fee for repairing, maintaining and expanding its aging stormwater system, officials said.

Part of Mt. Lebanon's $28 million budget introduced this week includes a monthly $5-to-$6 fee that would go into a separate fund for storm sewers. The amount of the fee would be adjusted for each property, based on the area of "impermeable" surfaces such as pavement, sidewalks and roofs that prevent rain from soaking into the ground.

Andy Reese, a vice president with the international consulting firm AMEC plc, said about 1,500 other municipalities around the country have such fees, but none on this side of the state. Philadelphia approved a similar charge that took effect this summer.

Public Works Director Tom Kelley said Mt. Lebanon's 75-mile system of catch basins and pipes needs work, as illustrated by recent flooding during heavy storms.

"You only see it when you get these hundred-year storms, and we've seemed to have had more than our fair share of those recently," Kelley said. "You can see you just don't have the resources to address the problem, and you see that the current system is inadequate."

The municipality doesn't have a dedicated source of money for stormwater capital projects and usually borrows as needed, said Manager Steve Feller.

"Some years we've spent nothing, some years we've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars," Feller said. "We have a long backlog of capital projects that are stormwater-related."

The fee would spread the cost more evenly by including properties such as churches and schools that are typically exempt from property taxes.

"Among your choices for raising revenue, a stormwater user fee is more equitable than a tax increase," Reese told commissioners last week. Property owners who make improvements to reduce runoff, such as building green roofs or stormwater retention ponds, would be eligible for credits or refunds, he said.

The commissioners would have to approve the fee as part of the 2011 budget this month, then would consider a separate ordinance establishing the fee and how it would be collected and administered. A public hearing on the proposed budget is 8 p.m. Monday in the municipal building.

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