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Monroeville pastor calls proposed MS4 fees unfair to houses of worship

September 25, 2018

Monroeville Municipal Center

A coalition of various religious sects in Monroeville complained that the municipality’s fee schedule for a proposed Municipal Storm Sewer System ordinance, also known as MS4, is unfair to houses of worship.

The proposed ordinance allows Monroeville to fee each property owner based on a property’s “equivalent residential units,” or ERUs. One ERU is equivalent to 2,385 square feet.

The money collected will be used to fund Monroeville’s five-year Pollution Reduction Plan that will cost $37.7 million, or $7.5 million per year. The plan includes improving the municipality’s aging stormwater infrastructure.

Councilman Ron Harvey, who chairs a committee dedicated to exploring the MS4 program privately, confirmed all property owners will pay $10 a month per assessed ERU. ERUs will be rounded down, he said.

Single-family homes, assessed at one ERU, will pay $120 a year.

The Rev. Bob Schaefer of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, who also serves as the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium treasurer, said in an article published on MIM’s website Aug. 29 that “the impact of a flat ERU will be much heavier on houses of worship than on businesses.”

Schaefer estimates that one Monroeville’s church -- St. Bernadette Catholic Church -- will pay around $10,500 a year based on 209,425 square feet of impermeable surface. Schaefer said he used an area calculator on MapDevelopers.com to determine square footage.

He compared that to the Miracle Mile shopping plaza, which will pay $54,420 a year, according to his calculations. But, he argues, “businesses will pass the cost on to their customers through small increases in price” and “landlords will pass the cost on to their tenants.”

If the property owner of Miracle Mile shopping plaza passed the fee onto all of its 30 tenants, each would pay approximately $1,800.

Houses of worship don’t have that option, Schaefer said.

″... houses of worship are almost always standalone properties. They are not able to share their large parking lots with other businesses as a strip mall or multi-tenant business property would do,” Shaefer wrote.

In his article, Schaefer asks the municipality to slash the monthly $10 or the total amount due each year by 70 percent.

“This amount will still be a challenge for many, but it is a realistic number to meet, and in line with what commercial businesses will pay,” he wrote.

Councilman Ron Harvey said that is unlikely.

“The feds said you can charge a fee but it has to be the same for everybody,” Harvey said. “So unless we want to break a federal law, we really can’t do that.”

He said what all property owners could possibly expect, however, is an option to pay the annual fee in quarterly installments instead of all at once. Harvey also said credits could be available to property owners if they properly diminish the amount of impermeable surface their property has.

Schaefer said he was glad Harvey was considering different payment options.

“We’re trying to be understanding because we understand -- it’s a chunk of change,” Harvey said.

Harvey said he and other municipal staff will attend a MIM monthly meeting in early September to answer questions about the MS4 program.

Residents will have an opportunity to learn about the minutia of the MS4 program and ask questions during a 7 p.m. meeting Sept. 6, at the municipal building.

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