Lehigh Valley

Stormwater fee would hit all Allentown property owners

Fee would impact non-profits as well

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Allentown officials hosted a public meeting Monday night to discuss and promote a potential stormwater fee that could cause property owners to dig deeper into their pockets next year.

The proposal, if approved by city council, would require city landowners to pay a fee based on impervious surfaces on their properties. This means any areas covered by buildings, concrete or pavement where rainwater cannot sink into the ground, according to a presentation made at the East Side Youth Center by Angela DiBuo, a compliance auditor with Allentown's Department of Public Works.

For about 50 percent of all single family developments in Allentown, the rate would be $60 or less, while 75 percent of all single family developments would pay less than $100, according to DiBuo. However, for property owners with larger buildings or substantial parking lots, the fee would be significantly higher.

To illustrate the point, DiBuo noted that, if the plan is approved, Louis E. Dieruff High School would pay $13,360 in fees; PPL Arena would be required to part with $8,400 in fees, and the Queen City Airport would pay $71,200 in fees.

This is based on charging $20 per 500 square feet of impervious surface.

"We are being fair to everybody," noted Craig Messinger, the city's interim public works director, of the possible fee. "We are trying to protect the taxpayer."

He added that the "have nots" would not pay as much as much as the "haves" when it comes to the fee.

City officials stressed the fee is not a tax. That's important because non-profit organizations would be required to pay this fee. For example, the city's churches often have fairly large parking lots. They would be required to pay the fee. A case in point would be New Apostle Church, at 1747 Oxford St., which would be required to pay $340 to satisfy the fee during 2018.

The new fee is required in order to meet federal mandates under the city's new stormwater permit. Allentown and the state's Department of Environmental Protection are currently negotiating a new permit, DiBuo said. The previous permit expired eight years ago and the two sides have been hammering out details on a new one since, and that time has now run out.

DiBuo stressed Monday night that the city attempted to assess the potential new fee in the most fair way possible. They enlisted the services of a consultant — Amec Foster Wheeler — to come up with the proposed new fees on property owners.

Allentown is also interested in providing credits and incentives for property owners who are willing to make improvements such as rain barrels, rain gardens, tree planting and pavement removal.

"We need your (property owners') help," she said.

Messinger, who attended the event after appearing before City Council earlier in the evening, said the legislative body made no amendments to the bill as presented by the administration during their Monday night meeting.

They could vote on the measure, Bill 82, as soon as Wednesday night.

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