On a purely practical level, Meadville resident and business owner Lisbet Searle-White is impressed by the City of Meadville’s proposed Stormwater Management Program, even though it is expected to cost the owner of each single-family detached residential dwelling in Meadville an additional $90 per year.

“I applaud the city for taking it forward proactively, recognizing that something needs to be done,” Searle-White said Wednesday night after Meadville City Council’s special public meeting on the program adjourned.

“I can see it’s a comprehensive process,” she continued, cautioning that Meadville “has to wake up to the reality” that the city bears the brunt of the burden of providing services for the greater regional community it serves because its small tax base is shrunk even smaller by the number of tax-exempt churches and other organizations within city boundaries.

However, this business owner also sees a brighter side. “I think there will likely be unintended benefits to this,” Searle-White added. “People will be inspired to do all sorts of creative things like putting in rain barrels and adding trees and plants to parking lots.”

For many of the more than two dozen city residents and business owners who gathered in Bessemer Street’s Douglass Conference Center early Wednesday evening, however, the bottom line was, well, the bottom line. Specifically, owners of specific properties wanted to know how much it was going to cost them — and why they should be expected to pay the cost of transporting somebody else’s stormwater into French Creek.

Tackling the issue of fee-for-service, “God willing, the fire department and police haven’t had to come to my house, but I pay for them,” Mayor Christopher Soff said. “We can’t function under a system where you only pay for what you use. My neighbors and I shouldn’t have to pave the street in front of our houses because 80 percent of the people paying taxes never use it.”

Describing the one-size-fits-all residential calculation as “inequitable,” resident Fran Stonedale asked that two or three categories of residential structures based on the square footage of impermeable surfaces be established.

In response, Brian Merritt of the AMEC consulting firm explained that many communities start with a single residential unit, but once their system is in place and operating smoothly, they set up a multi-tiered system.

Several of those who responded to the opportunity to ask questions and express opinions were seeking specifics on a proposed credit program that would offer businesses — but not residential property owners — reductions in the proposed stormwater fee in exchange for reducing runoff into the city’s stormwater system by putting best stormwater management practices into place.

According to Assistant City Manager Andy Walker, appointed stormwater czar by City Manager Joe Chriest, the development of the credit policy portion of the program has been delayed as focus has been concentrated on other elements of the program.

However, the draft ordinance under review by council for further consideration during council’s Sept. 19 monthly meeting does specify that “The City shall establish a Credit Policy and develop a manual documenting the credit process. Credits against user fees are an appropriate means of adjusting user fees, and under some circumstances, to account for applicable mitigation measures. Upon adoption by Council, credit mechanisms shall be incorporated herein as the City of Meadville Stormwater User Fee Credit Manual, which may be updated or revised as needed in Council’s discretion. No exception, credit, offset, or other reduction in user fees shall be granted based on age, race, tax status, economic status or religion of the customer, or other condition unrelated to the demand for and cost of services provided by the City of Meadville.”

Time for change

Wednesday’s public meeting began with a welcoming statement from Soff followed by a brief outline by Walker of the impact of changing paradigms of stormwater management over the years.

While best management practices have evolved from “pump it into pipes” to “minimize the flow into pipes by keeping it on the property longer” to “keep it on-site permanently by slowly infiltrating it into the ground,” for example, Meadville finds itself with 30 miles of aging stormwater pipe in need of costly maintenance that carries both rainfall and tributaries to French Creek. Then there’s an ongoing increase in regulatory mandates for handling all that water while preserving its quality — and the long-term consequences of decades of commercial and industrial floodplain development.

At the present time, stormwater crisis management in Meadville is strictly “pay as it floods” — reacting to problems as they arise and requiring city workers to devote countless hours to holding equipment long past its prime together as best they can.

 Under the proposed plan, owners of all other non-single-family-detached parcels within the city would pay an annual fee based on multiples of the 2,660 square feet of impervious surface used to calculate the residential fee. The rate for both residential and non-residential would remain steady for the first three years of the program; from there, the program will be evaluated annually and the fee set based on performance and needs.

The discussion will continue Wednesday at 6 p.m. during Meadville City Council’s monthly meeting in the training room at Meadville Central Fire Station. The training room is entered from the Walnut Street side of the building.

Wednesday’s special session was recorded by Armstrong and is scheduled to air for the first time Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 23.

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at mspicer@meadvilletribune.com.

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