The Radnor Township Board of Commissioners is currently considering a new storm water fee that for many residents will vary between $56 to $230 depending on the size of their property.
I don't think anyone can dispute that many residents have been seriously harmed by the Townships’ unwillingness for at least the last ten years to make the necessary and appropriate repairs to Radnor’s storm water system, other than for emergencies. Whether, it’s street flooding, damaged and ruined cars, sandbags to protect stores, flooded basements or manhole covers getting blown off during storms, the evidence is all around us. However, while this proposal does have the singular benefit of bringing in entities not part of the residential tax base to help pay for these repairs, I do think some additional context is necessary here.
- This will mean another double digit increase in what residential taxpayers pay to the Township in fees and taxes. While some or maybe many cannot deduct real estate taxes any longer, some can and they will not be able to do so with this fee.
- The Township does not have any good estimates of how many people are actually impacted by storm water issues.
- The Township cannot articulate specific causes of the problems. Is it more severe weather? Is it too much or inappropriate development? Are changes in other township’s causing the problems? Does a property flood because of the amount of impervious surface on its property or because of changes on the surrounding properties?
- A number of projects have been identified but there is no ROI analysis on those projects nor any indication of whether or not they will solve the problems of the people who are impacted.
- Because the board has not maintained the system appropriately, current taxpayers will share disproportionately in the burden of bringing the system up to date.
- And finally, because of the timing of these projects, millions of dollars in the early years are collected before projects can be implemented.
All of this is really disappointing. I would have thought that rather than first collecting the fees and then figuring out how to spend the money, the Township would first want to identify the causes, figure out how much is required to resolve those issues and then determine how best to fund that effort.
But that did not happen and perhaps, most worrisome is the fact that what is proposed includes no governance structure ensuring that the funds will be spent appropriately and only on storm water issues. I served on the citizen’s advisory committee and these points were made unanimously and very clearly to the consultant and to the Township. It was well understood by everyone that the Township has a history of poor fiscal management and diverting funds away from their intended use. And while I have a great deal of respect for Messrs. Zienkowski, White and Norcini when it comes to fiscal responsibility and restraint, there is no guarantee any of them will be here a year from now and I am not nearly so comfortable with this board as it currently configured.
If you think a good governance structure is not so important, take a quick glance at the picture at the top of the page. That is a picture of Township owned property on Woodland in North Wayne. Although there is no signage to indicate as such, Radnor owns the garage and a portion of the lot to the right of the garage.
A reasonable person might ask why the property was purchased or was there an appraisal to demonstrate to taxpayers that a fair price was paid. They might wonder if there is any documentation showing how the purchase was approved. And they might be curious as to why a commissioner’s signature appears as a witness for both the buyer and the seller on the Seller’s Disclosure Statement or what exactly was the Township’s relationship with the real estate agency involved.
This is but one example of why a good governance structure is a necessity here.
So what’s an elegant solution to this? Considering all of above, I would recommend the following:
- There needs to be a clearly articulated governance structure around how this money will be spent and how it will be managed before it is spent and iron clad restrictions against using the funds for any other purpose. In my opinion, all projects should be vetted by CARFAC to ensure this.
- Even if this is done, and $30-60 million in estimated repairs is shifted to this funding source, the Township still faces over $200 million in funded and unfunded liabilities and cannot pay for the open lands it currently owns. Assurances should be given that in no way will these funds be used as a rationale for the purchase of additional open land. The citizen’s group made it clear that funds should be used only for long overdue repairs and not for the purchase of open lands or properties that may have no or only a secondary storm water benefit.
- Finally, current taxpayers should not be asked to bear a disproportionate burden of these expenses and therefore, they should receive a tax reduction equal to the amount historically allocated by the Township for emergency repairs, approximately $1 million.
On this basis, I can support the fee. Without this, all taxpayers should be highly skeptical.
In the next week, residents will have two opportunities to voice their thoughts with the commissioners. The first comes on Thursday September 19th at a town hall meeting that Commissioner Schaeffer is holding at the Rosemont Presbyterian Village Auditorium, 404 Cheswick Place (off of Strathmore Rd), Rosemont from 7 to 8:30p.m.
Commissioner Schaeffer will be discussing the storm water issue and that would be a good opportunity to see if she has any updates addressing the above issues. She will also be discussing the potential purchase of a portion of Ardrossan. Ms. Schaeffer’s zealotry when it comes to spending other people’s money to buy open lands at any cost is well known but taxpayers can only hope that she can provide some reasonable rationale for this purchase when the Township cannot afford to maintain the current land it owns and faces well over $200 million in long term funded and unfunded obligations.
Ms. Schaeffer will also be trumpeting the Township’s goal of no tax increase next year. I understand Ms. Schaeffer does not have a financial background but I find this a little insensitive to taxpayers who will be facing a double digit increase when considering both their taxes and the new storm water fee. Ms Schaeffer should be explaining to taxpayers why there isn't going to be a tax decrease since the Township’s expenses will now be covered by this new fee.
The second opportunity will be at the Commissioner’s meeting on Monday night. I encourage taxpayers to attend one or both if they can.