A Whitemarsh Township official issued an appeal to surrounding municipalities last week, proposing the creation of a regional Stormwater Task Force to support Pennsylvania House bill 1390. The bill, authored by Robert Freeman (D-136) would allow for the creation of regional stormwater management authorities with the power to levy taxes to fund the creation of stormwater projects.
“We’ve all heard of the 100-year storm,” wrote Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors chair Bob Hart in the appeal, sent to more than 30 local officials. “Unfortunately, these 100-year storms seem to be occurring on a much more frequent basis…the time has come for us in local government to help Rep. Freeman lead the charge for real solutions to our physically and financially devastating stormwater problems."
The appeal was sent to officials in Abington, Ambler, Cheltenham, Conshocken, East Norriton, Lower Moreland, Plymouth, Springfield, Upper Moreland, and Whitpain, along with Upper Dublin commissioners Ira Tackel and Jon Minehart and township manager Paul Leonard.
Hart further addressed his concerns in an interview with Patch.
"Our neighbors are getting crushed under the weight of stormwater issues. It's so overwhelming to local municipalities." said Hart, adding that costs to build flood-mitigating structures often far outpace annual budgets. "[Whitemarsh] has put $3 million into stormwater projects, and we probably require another $23 million to do what is needed."
Hart explained that the bill originally appeared on the house floor in 2009, but failed to gain traction. He hopes that with greater support from entities such as the proposed task force, HB1390 will have better success when reintroduced in the coming months. Hart added that he's already reached out to a number of local representatives, including state Rep. Todd Stephens (R-151) and state Senator Daylin Leach (D-17).
"This is a bipartisan issue and floodwaters affect everybody equally," said Hart. "I don't have an answer for residents that come in, but I know they need help."
What's in the bill?
As the bill currently reads, the legislation would allow any number of local and county governments to create regional stormwater management authorities to plan and execute stormwater strategies. The bill also would grant such authorities the power to levy a "fee" on all property owners within the participating municipalities.
"The water resources management authority may levy a fee on property owners, users or consumers of the services provided by the authority to pay for all costs associated with planning, implementation, administration and enforcement under the Storm Water Management Act," the bill reads.
While Hart agreed that "fee" is synonymous with tax, he said that any potential financial impact would be less burdensome than the alternative.
"A tax would not be the first order of business. We'd go for state and federal money first…[regional authorities] can use their weight for state and federal grants," said Hart, adding that a tax would be the last resort. "It would be such a minor issue on a regional level, compared to a municipality that has to come up with $30 million."
One such outlet is the Pennsylvania H20 grant program, from which Upper Dublin was to build two flood-retaining structures in January.
Hart said that if the bill passes, the creation of a regional authority made up of members who join the proposed task force would be likely. However, when asked about how representation and funds would be allocated, and how the body would make decisions, Hart said it was too early to say.
"Once we form the initial task force, the goal would be to promote the bill," Hart said, adding that similar laws exist in other states. "We would research into how other states do it. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. This has been done."
What do Upper Dublin officials have to say?
Patch reached out to the Upper Dublin officials who were contacted by Hart and township manager Paul Leonard responded by saying that the township has not made a decision.
"[The commissioners] haven't looked at the proposed bill in-depth, and have not yet taken a stance on any legislation," said Leonard.
"The state coming up with some solutions for stormwater problems is important for everybody, particularly in areas that have high urban flooding," Leonard added.
Check back with Patch for future coverage on the proposed Stormwater Task Force and house bill 1390.