We despise talk of municipalities looking to raise taxes and service fees – unless all other avenues for making do have been fully examined.
But city dwellers could very well be facing tax and fee increases to address expensive sewage problems that must be corrected.
The alternative is to continue to allow the un-checked flow of raw sewage into water supplies, and no one wants that.
All 20 municipalities in the Johnstown Regional Sewage system are wrangling with the same problem: Large amounts of surface water are infiltrating sewer lines, causing the release of untreated waste during wet weather.
Most have begun addressing the problem – at great expense.
City officials, however, have not moved as fast as state and federal officials want, and last week they received a stern and threatening message: You’re out of time. Stop illegal discharges or start paying fines.
For residents, the dictate could initially translate into higher sewage “maintenance” rates, possibly as much as $15 more a month.
In 2009,, that rate was raised to $10 a month from an average of $4.10, but state officials last week said the fee was still much lower than what is paid by other communities in our area.
Three DEP officials laid out the grim facts for council, as reported by our Mike Faher: The city’s sewage rate should be raised drastically and contracts must be initiated soon to undertake a pro-ject that, local leaders say, will cost at least $40 million.
The federal government, they said, was prepared to file a lawsuit against the city – levying fines of more than $20,000 daily – if officials do not rapidly move to stop illegal discharges.
That could be disastrous for the already cash-strapped municipality.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been monitoring the situation and will crack down quickly, Bruce Herschlag, a DEP attorney, warned:
“They would be more than happy to step in – they have said that.”
It’s obvious the city is dragging its feet. We have been reporting and editorializing on this issue for years.
While low-interest loans and grants are available, one DEP manager warned that “grants alone will not pay for this problem to be fixed.”
It’s not hard to figure out what else is left.
Unfortunately, as time passes, the costs for fixing this mess have kept going up.