CRANBERRY TWP — At the beginning of 2020, township residents could see a new line item on their sewer and water bills.
That line would cost residents in single-family homes about $3 per month to start, before growing to about $6 per month in 2021. The cost to nonresidential areas will be greater, determined by the amount of impervious space on a parcel of land.
The fees are a necessity to allow the township to pay for stormwater system requirements and address infrastructure needs in the ever-growing township, officials said.
According to Jason Kratsas, Cranberry's director of engineering and environmental services, the township has spent the past 10 years addressing regulations outlined by the Department of Environmental Protection, including Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) requirements.
He said a set of requirements must be met by 2023, including sediment control in Brush Creek, where about 6,000 feet of stream bank will be restored.
Additionally, he said growth in the township began to ramp up about 25 years ago, with new infrastructure installed at the time of development. That infrastructure now is in need of maintenance.
The sheer volume of water alone also is on the minds of officials, as Kratsas noted 1 inch of rain pumps millions of gallons through the township's system, which must then be managed.
“That system ... is really a series and network of pipes and infrastructure that is necessary to convey stormwater from all the properties in Cranberry Township, get it to the right place and, hopefully, in such a manner that is efficient and not flooding people,” Kratsas said.
Officials said all of this requires a number of forthcoming capital expenses as well as planning for future regulations as they continue to change.
“To manage those costs, we'd have to cut other programs or find a way to fund it,” Kratsas said.
To tackle the expense, the township is considering a stormwater management program that identifies costs and creates a funding mechanism. The program will allow stormwater management to be treated like any other utility, Kratsas said.
“All properties in Cranberry Township would be looked at and assessed for the utility, and then charged accordingly,” he said.
The Cranberry Township General Authority would serve as general manager of the program, while the township handles maintenance and billing. The concept was presented to township supervisors on Thursday, with the General Authority set to discuss it later this month.
The program calls for a new line item to be placed on the sewer and water bills of single-family residences. For the first year of the base-rate program, the estimated $3 per month fee will cover capital expenses for projects in the Sun Valley-Laporte and Greenwood Drive areas as well as stream bed work. The fee increases to an estimated $6 per month in the second year to cover additional operational expenses.
The basis for the fee is the amount of impervious material on a particular property, with each real estate parcel paying the charge. Kratsas and Jerry Andree, township manager, noted every residential and non-residential land owner will be part of the program, including large businesses, churches and the township itself, which must pay for spaces such as the municipal building and various parks.
While residents will pay the base fee, multifamily residential and non-residential property owners will pay a fee compared to the average size of a residential parcel. That size is estimated at 3,250 square feet.
Officials noted they have been meeting with land and business owners who will see the biggest impact. The largest fee in the township in the second year of the program is expected to be more than $50,000 per year for one business, and they said giving warning years in advance of that cost increase has been ongoing.
Kratsas said there are exemptions for large properties, such as farms, that are over 20 acres but have less than 5 percent of that property developed.
Andree said meetings with businesses have been going on for a few years, but with an anticipated rollout of the program and fee beginning in January, officials have ramped up conversations with residents.
That includes an open house event scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 9 in council chambers at the Cranberry Township Municipal Center on Rochester Road as well as setting up online resources at cranberrytownship.org/stormwater.
Andree noted the township will be the first in Butler County to propose such a fee, and said he and other officials understand the fee may not be popular.
“It's not easy to raise rates for something people can't see,” he said.
However, he said with the township growing and the need for such things as additional police officers and road projects ever present, it is the only option.
Andree and other officials also noted not adhering to the MS4 guidelines could lead to major fines that would cost the township in the end.
“I wish we could (decrease taxes because of the fee), but these costs are growing so fast, the general fund can't keep up with it,” he said.