Across much of the United States, the number of municipalities imposing stormwater management fees upon property owners has increased dramatically in recent years. The rising prevalence of stormwater management fees has predictably led to local and state court challenges by businesses, as non-residential property owners are typically more severely impacted by stormwater management fees in comparison to residential property owners. Affected businesses have questioned whether parcel-based stormwater fees constitute legitimate fees for services rendered or are simply revenue-generating taxes in disguise.
State courts have issued conflicting rulings on this question. In the heartland, the Supreme Court of Missouri issued a 2013 decision striking down stormwater management fees and requiring municipalities to fund stormwater management programs through tax revenues. In the northeast, the Supreme Court of Maine conversely issued a 2012 decision affirming a stormwater management fee program as a fee for services rendered.
It now appears that Pennsylvania jurisdictions will have an opportunity to weigh-in on this critical debate. In January 2018, the Chester Business Association filed injunctions seeking to block imposition of a stormwater management fee proposed by the Stormwater Authority of Chester. Similarly, an attorney and property owner in the city of New Castle filed a complaint with the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas requesting that the court void stormwater management fees to be collected by the New Castle Sanitation Authority.
While the outcome of these cases remains uncertain, any decisions in these jurisdictions may not be dispositive as to rulings in other Pennsylvania jurisdictions, as stormwater management fees are complex and can be developed based on a variety of different models. For both municipalities and businesses impacted by stormwater management fees, effective stakeholder engagement can ensure that legitimate stormwater management fees serve their intended purpose and avoid overly burdening property owners. Attorneys at McNees can assist with review, analysis, and if necessary, litigation of stormwater management fees.