Lehigh Valley

Allentown council approves 2018 budget, stormwater fee

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Allentown City Council approved the 2018 budget Wednesday night, which included a new stormwater fee that will be charged to all property owners.

The vote was 5-2, with President Ray O'Connell and Roger MacLean dissenting. Unlike most votes, which simply require a majority for passage, the measure required five votes for passage. The total budget is for $108 million.

The new stormwater fee will be charged to property owners and is based on impervious surface areas: buildings, pavements, concrete or anything that prevents rainwater from going directly into the ground. The fee charges $20 for every 500 square feet of impervious surface. The city expects to derive about $5.7 million in new revenue thanks to it during 2018.

Mayor Ed Pawlowski has said the city needs more money to pay for expensive federal mandates that will be met by the city's new stormwater permit.

Councilwoman Cynthia Mota said Wednesday night that low-income residents already have enough trouble making ends meet.

"I'm all for clean water, clean environment," Mota said. "But we're dealing with low-income families."

In response, Brent Hartzell, the city's finance director, said residents would be able to pay the fee in installments by July 15 without penalty. After that date, residents will have to pay an additional 10 percent charge on top of the fee.

In supporting the bill, Councilwoman Candida Affa said council did not want to increase taxes or create new fees on property owners, but in this case it was warranted.

"Whether you're a charity or a church, everyone should have to pay to keep our waters clean," she said. "We pay now or we pay more later."

Residents who spoke during a public comment session had divergent views. 

"This fee is totally reasonable," said resident Barbara Miller. "It's absolutely necessary."

Another resident, Christian Brown, said the fee is not that much money and "worth it" and "going to stormwater improvements" the city needs to address.

Holding another viewpoint was resident Joe Hilliard, who said the city had simply put together a "dog and pony show to sell this scheme" to get more money. He added that it wasn't a fee, but rather "another tax" on property owners.

"You're being lied to," Hilliard told council prior to their vote.

Another resident, Don Ringer, said as a business owner he is tired of paying "fees, fees and more fees" to the city of Allentown. 

The 2018 budget holds the line on property taxes for the 13th consecutive year.

With council's approval Wednesday night, Pawlowski has three options. He can accept the budget, veto the budget, or do nothing and the budget will become law on January 1.

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