Stormwater runoff is a problem in Cheltenham Township, but, in my opinion, the commissioners are misusing the problem.  They are using that issue as a basis for instituting a new stormwater impact fee to raise revenue, reacting to a situation when they should be taking creative and appropriate proactive steps.

The way is being paved for the implementation of a stormwater impact fee.

“At its April 2020 legislative meeting, the Board of Commissioners awarded a professional services contract to Arcadis, a design and consulting firm based from Philadelphia, to conduct a stormwater impact fee feasibility study and help implement the fee if one is determined feasible,” township officials said on the Cheltenham website.

Is there any doubt the report will advocate the stormwater impact fee?

Next, the people are being prepared for what is coming by officials citing what others are doing.

“Stormwater impact fees are being implemented in communities across the country to help finance projects that will meet increasing state and federal regulations placed upon communities to manage stormwater and improve water quality,” the website states.

Finally, the township is providing justification.

“Managing the Township’s municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) – the system of pipes, drains, ditches, and other conveyances that carry stormwater into the waters of the U.S. – also carries significant costs to maintain and meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act, a necessity for federal permission to release stormwater into federal waters.

Resiliency, flood mitigation, and water quality projects will continue to place a strain on the Township’s budgets and will likely require tax increases. The Township is investigating a stormwater impact fee as an equitable option for financing these costs.

Municipalities with stormwater impact fees also receive more grant or financing opportunities to further offset the costs of stormwater management projects,” according to the township website.

Well, if, as the township claims, stormwater runoff is a problem requiring investing in costly infrastructure, perhaps the best response is to increase the area of pervious surfaces, reduce the volume of stormwater exiting a site, and use surplus monies for capital projects and grants to accomplish these objectives.

The township has millions of dollars from the sale of the sewer system.  Such monies are appropriately used for capital projects.  The township has also received federal monies in response to the Wuhan virus.

The township can use its regulatory powers to require new land covers to be pervious and that systems be installed to reduce the volume of stormwater exiting the site. The township can offer grants, using some of the millions acquired by the sale of the sewer system, to homeowners, religious institutions, and other tax-exempt properties to replace impervious surfaces with previous ones and to install on-site infrastructure to reduce the volume of stormwater entering the township’s storm sewer system.

There is a major development under construction at the former Ashbourne Country Club.  What type of surface is being used on the roads etc.?  What steps are being taken to reduce the volume of stormwater runoff?

To their credit, the commissioners are sensitive to the high real estate taxes in Cheltenham, but fee or tax, it is money out of the pockets of the property owners.  A fee is just another name for a tax that can be applied to religious and other tax-exempt properties.  The stormwater impact fee should be set aside because it takes more money from the taxpayers, is an inappropriate response to the problem, and potentially poses a threat to the community.

Religious institutions are tax-exempt for a reason.  The power to tax is the power to destroy.  A large stormwater impact fee for religious institutions with large parking lots could endanger their survival.  Wouldn’t this be a horrible unintended consequence of the fee?

Then there is the effectiveness of the fee.  Isn’t the stormwater impact fee a typical, less than creative, response to an identified problem?  It raises revenue but does it reduce the volume of the stormwater requiring treatment?  Does it solve the problem?

Any bets on whether the study will discuss creative options other than the one they were hired to justify?