Stormwater

Stormwater Solutions for Safer Neighborhoods

Boroughs of Evans City, Harmony and Zelienople and the Township of Jackson join forces to create the Southwest Butler Stormwater Authority.

Communities Working Together

Many of our residents will recall the catastrophic flooding that severely impacted our communities in the summer of 2019. In the wake of that flooding the Butler County Commissioners called a meeting of all municipal officials from throughout the County in the fall of that year.

Their plea was to find ways to work together to mitigate future flooding impacts on our residents and businesses. Their message was clear, stormwater does not respect municipal boundaries and under Pennsylvania law, stormwater management and floodplain management are a responsibility of local government.

Ten communities in southwest Butler County accepted that call and began meeting in late 2019, those communities were Adams, Cranberry, Evans City, Forward, Harmony, Lancaster, Penn, Seven Fields and Zelienople. The group is called the Southwest Butler Stormwater Planning Group. 

These meetings have resulted in significantly improved intermunicipal cooperation. Collectively they undertook a multi-municipal Stormwater Study on the watersheds impacting their communities. That Study identified the needed improvements along with suggested regulatory updates.

The Southwest Butler Stormwater Planning Group includes the following communities:

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Cranberry

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Evans City

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Forward Township

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Harmony

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Jackson Township

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Lancaster

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Penn Township

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Zelienople

Improved Regulations Across the Watershed

As a results of that work, all of the municipalities in the Group updated their stormwater management regulations to be consistent across the watersheds, enhanced their floodplain management abilities and improved their dialogue with state and legal authorities. 

Throughout this process, the County Commissioners have been strong supporters of this effort, and in 2022 announced a major funding program, called the Municipal Infrastructure Program, that financially supports municipal stormwater improvements. The Group was perfectly positioned due to their advance work and applied for grants to fund the projects they collectively identified in their watersheds.

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The members of the Group received $5,777,867 in funding to advance $9,718,867 in funding to advance 22 projects within the Group.

Additional Investments Needed to Continue the Work

The Group continues to work collaboratively on implementing these capital projects. However, the Group understood these grant funds were only one-time investments and additional investments are needed both in capital projects and in the operation and maintenance of existing facilities.

A sub-group of the larger Group, those being Evans City, Harmony, Jackson and Zelienople, realized costs of needed capital improvements and the maintenance of their existing systems are in excess of their ability to fund. They are also experiencing the additional costs that are a result of unfunded state and federal mandate upon their responsibilities in stormwater management.

For the three boroughs, the only way to increase investment into stormwater work is to either reduce other municipal services, such as street maintenance and public safety and/or raise taxes. Under Pennsylvania state law, only municipal authorities and townships of the second class can levy a stormwater fee.

The four communities collaboratively determined they would all be best served by a regional municipal authority dedicated to stormwater work. That is where we are now, with each governing body of those communities considering the official creation of the Southwest Butler Stormwater Authority.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is stormwater and why is it a concern for the four communities?

Stormwater commonly refers to runoff from rain, snow and ice melting. In the natural settings, stormwater slowly soaks into the ground surface or flows overland into adjacent streams. This process relies on an abundance of pervious surfaces such as grasslands, farmland, lawns, or other natural landscapes. In our communities these natural surfaces are often replaced with impervious or hard surfaces such as streets, sidewalks, parking lots, homes or other similar structures. The result of an urbanized region is the reduced amount of natural area available to absorb stormwater. With an increase in impervious or hard surfaces, a larger amount of stormwater ends up flowing, at a swift rate, over these surfaces where it tends to collect chemicals and debris along the way. If not properly controlled, stormwater can overwhelm streams and embankments and cause major flooding in the communities, along with soil erosion and water pollution.

What is stormwater and why is it a concern for the four communities?

Stormwater commonly refers to runoff from rain, snow and ice melting. In the natural settings, stormwater slowly soaks into the ground surface or flows overland into adjacent streams. This process relies on an abundance of pervious surfaces such as grasslands, farmland, lawns, or other natural landscapes. In our communities these natural surfaces are often replaced with impervious or hard surfaces such as streets, sidewalks, parking lots, homes or other similar structures. The result of an urbanized region is the reduced amount of natural area available to absorb stormwater. With an increase in impervious or hard surfaces, a larger amount of stormwater ends up flowing, at a swift rate, over these surfaces where it tends to collect chemicals and debris along the way. If not properly controlled, stormwater can overwhelm streams and embankments and cause major flooding in the communities, along with soil erosion and water pollution.  

What are Stormwater Management Programs?

Each of the incorporating communities has the framework of a stormwater management system that manages the movement of stormwater throughout their stormwater system. The creation of the regional stormwater authority will help each of the four communities improve and enhance their Stormwater Management Programs by identifying the costs that they currently or expect to experience to collect and convey stormwater. Those costs are the beginning of determining how the revenue is generated to address those current and emerging costs. That revenue is then generated by imposing stormwater fees upon all properties within the region served by the stormwater authority.  Aging infrastructure and changing regulations require regular maintenance, replacement, and new infrastructure annually.  A strategic region-wide plan is needed to address the millions of gallons of stormwater that are processed by the four communities.

What is a base rate utility and who pays it?

The proposed stormwater program is based on a base rate utility.  This means that properties (both residential and non-residential) in the communities would be charged a base rate based upon an ERU (Equivalent Residential Unit). Meaning a single-family dwelling is assigned 1 ERU. Larger properties with significantly more impervious surfaces may be assigned additional ERUs. If a fee of $3.00 is assessed for each ERU, a single-family dwelling would pay $3.00 per month or $36.00 a year.  The fee is paid by landowners, which includes homeowners, businesses, nonprofits, churches, colleges, school districts, and municipal agencies. This fee per ERU would be determined annually by the proposed Stormwater Authority.

Are property owners who don’t use public sewer and water part of the base rate utility?

All property owners, including tax exempt properties, will be subject to the stormwater fees, including those on a private well and/or septic system.

Why not use the communities’ General Funds to absorb these costs?

If the communities would use its General Fund, which is mostly funded through taxes, then tax-exempt properties would not be contributing to the entire system’s maintenance and sustainability.  Funding for stormwater would then have to compete with other important spending priorities. To ensure that stormwater maintenance remains a priority, it is important to implement an adequate and stable revenue source. If the growing mandated stormwater costs remain in the General Funds, it would either result in a cut in basic services and/or a tax increase.

If the stormwater rate is to generate funds to replace the dollars currently coming from the General Fund, how are those General Fund dollars being re-purposed?

The municipalities’ General Fund dollars have not funded the stormwater program needs on a consistent basis nor fully funded the Programs. Those dollars have fluctuated over the years, depending upon the availability of capital dollars and the demand for General Fund dollars. It is anticipated the communities will need to consistently fund their Stormwater Management Programs annually in amounts exceeding $1M within the next several years. It is proposed that in 2025, the Stormwater Fee will start replacing and/or supplementing those dollars from the General Funds. The General Funds will then be positioned to fund anticipated increased costs in public safety and road maintenance, the core purpose of the General Fund, reducing the need for future General Fund Tax increases.

What is mandated?

Under the law, boroughs and townships are legally mandated to manage the quantity of stormwater entering the waters of the Commonwealth. Those mandates are being increased to include the quality of that stormwater. To meet those current and increasing state and/or federally mandated requirements a proposed comprehensive stormwater management program is needed to fund and maintain projects that would maintain and improve stormwater infrastructure. If these requirements are not met, the communities may be subject to very serious fines by the PA DEP and U.S. EPA. It is highly anticipated all four communities will be under federally mandated MS4 Permits (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) placing significant additional financial burdens on local governments.

Why is this a utility?

The communities propose using funding through a stormwater utility management approach that would charge developed properties (taxable & tax exempt) a fair and equitable fee. These fees will support the costs of maintaining the current system along with the needed capital improvements within the stormwater management system to stay in compliance with the PA DEP and U.S. EPA regulations

What is considered a developed property?

A developed property is a parcel that includes impervious surfaces – which could include pavement, gravel, parking lot, building, roof, brick, stone, asphalt, or cement. An impervious surface is anything that is an artificial structure which impedes the absorption of stormwater into the ground.

What is the proposed Southwest Butler Stormwater Authority?

The proposed authority would be created under the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Act, which specifically allows the use of stormwater fees to fund stormwater management programs. To be efficient in the administration of the multiple Stormwater Management Programs it is proposed the Stormwater Authority would assist in funding the individual community’s stormwater management programs through a utility management approach.

The proposed authority would consist of 5 members, with one appointed from each of the four incorporating municipalities and the fifth member being at large and appointed by all four municipalities.

What's the basis for the utility system management approach?

The proposed utility management approach supports the stormwater systems throughout the four incorporating municipalities. Each real estate parcel pays a utility charge in order to fund the capital improvements and maintenance of the public stormwater systems. This is a similar approach to managing public sewer and water systems.

How will the proposed stormwater management utility programs be implemented?

Each of the incorporating municipalities will now have financial support to enhance their stormwater programs. Those individual municipal stormwater management programs will be coordinated by the proposed Stormwater Authority to ensure the stormwater fees are used efficiently.  The Authority will develop a proposed rate that will help maintain and enhance the multiple public stormwater systems which are subject to billions of gallons of stormwater that passes through the systems every year.  

What about commercial properties?

Commercial properties are assessed differently than residential properties.  The more impervious area a property has, the more runoff flows from the property, placing more demand on the region’s multiple stormwater systems.  Billing will be based on the impervious surface area of each commercial property.  This is a more equitable way to determine the fee than using property values and is a widely acceptable method of stormwater management for commercial businesses across the Commonwealth.

How will the proposed Stormwater Authority calculate impervious surfaces for commercial properties?

The advance planning done by the Joint Study Group of the four incorporating communities used advanced aerial imagery from available GIS (Geographic Information Systems), such as Butler County, to identify impervious surfaces. This has created a basic understanding of how a stormwater fee would be implemented.

What if my house is smaller than my neighbor's house?

Each property/parcel will be assessed the base rate.  The proposed Authority could not reduce the utility cost lower than the base rate.  Properties will be responsible to support the communities’ public stormwater systems as every developed parcel is using it for stormwater management.

What’s the difference between a publicly or privately-owned stormwater system?

The complete stormwater management utility system is composed of both private and public owners. Private stormwater utility systems are those that are owned, managed, and maintained by private owners such as HOA’s, individual lot owners, etc. Public stormwater utility systems convey water from the private sector across the utility network to final outfalls where water quality and quantity are measured. Same as with the sewer, water, electrical and gas utilities, the connections from that utility into a private property are privately owned and maintained.

How is this utility different from a tax?

Real estate taxes are collected from property owners who own taxable property. They are based on the assessed value of their property, to cover the costs of general municipal services, such as street maintenance and public safety. Under a utility approach a base rate rather than a tax is established. The base rate is established on the costs of operating and maintaining the systems. The costs are distributed across users who are served by the utility, which in this case are the current and future users of the stormwater systems.

How does the appeal process work?

If a property owner feels that the base rate imposed upon their property is not appropriate there will be process established by the authority to appeal that rate.

Provide me with a brief summary of what is happening here?

The municipalities studying this regional initiative has been or will very soon been ordered by the Federal and State governments to increase its responsibilities in managing stormwater runoff, just like thousands of other municipalities across the country.  This unfunded mandate is incurring annual costs on the communities to maintain its stormwater system in a manner acceptable to meet current regulations and permits.  These new costs are not sustainable under the current financing system, creating emerging threats to maintaining the municipalities core services. The approach here is the same approach taken with sewer and water services, they are not paid for by the General Funds, but, based upon fair and equitable charges to the users of those systems.  A utility system approach is recommended as the most appropriate response to these mandates and adopted by thousands of municipalities across the country.  This regional approach includes a collaboration between the proposed Stormwater Authority and the four incorporating municipalities. It is recognized to be the most fair and efficient manner approach to stormwater management, as stormwater does not respect municipal boundaries.

How will the proposed stormwater fee be collected?

If a stormwater authority is created, it is their responsibility to identify the most efficient manner to impose and collect the stormwater fees. That may include partnering with existing utilities and/or other agencies that are in the business, ie, tax collection agencies.

How do I know how many ERUs have been assigned to my property?

Single family dwellings are assessed one (1) ERU. Non-residential properties are assessed based upon their impervious surfaces. Each municipality has identified the number of proposed ERUs for all parcels in their municipality. 

How will the funds generated by the Stormwater Fee be distributed?

Each of the four incorporating municipalities will have one representative on the authority’s board of directors, with one appointed at large by all incorporating municipalities, making it a five-person board. That board of directors will be responsible for the administration of the stormwater program consistent with the Articles of Incorporation adopted by each of the incorporating municipalities along with the PA Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Act.

According to the proposed Articles of Incorporation the Authority is mandated to return no less than a certain percentage of stormwater fees collected in a municipality to that municipality to fund their operational and maintenance costs of their stormwater system. The balance of the funds will be allocated to support a Capital Improvement Plan that is adopted at least every two years by the four incorporating municipalities.

Will there be other opportunities to attract additional grants to benefit stormwater projects within the four incorporating municipalities?

One of the most important lessons the Group has learned is that all levels of government, from the County to the State to the Federal government, value inter-governmental cooperation. Projects advanced that benefit multiple communities historically receive priority from funding agencies. That will be another major benefit for the region served by this authority. 

How will funds be distributed by the proposed authority?

As previously discussed, the municipally appointed members of the board of directors are obligated to follow the Articles of Incorporation creating the authority as well as state law regulating authorities. The board of directors will be fully responsible for the proper administration of those funds, including the distribution of those funds.

For additional information about the proposed Southwest Butler Stormwater Authority, please contact the following:

Evans City Borough
724.991.8598
www.evanscity.us/stormwater

Harmony Borough
724.452.6610
www.harmony-pa.us

Zelienople Borough
724.452.6610
www.zelieboro.org

Jackson Township
724.452.5581
www.jackson-township.com

Resources

Want to learn more about keeping our ecosystem and drinking water clean?

Download our essential guides!

Homeowner's Guide to Stormwater

Learn how to develop and implement a stormwater management plan for your property. Details inside!

When it Rains, it Drains

Your Role in Reducing Stormwater Pollution in the Community

Stormwater Management in Southwestern Butler County

Learn about erosion, runoff and managing the impact of pollution and flooding.

Stormwater Updates

Stormwater Educational Session

Stormwater Educational Session

The community is invited to an educational public session to discuss the requirements of the stormwater MS4 permit program and the potential formation of a Regional Stormwater Authority on Monday, March 4 at 6:00 pm in the Community Room at the Evans City Public...

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