Fountain Hill borough council members and citizens gathered in Borough Hall Monday to discuss the state of their community. The community as a whole is looking forward to various events this summer, but talk of a new annual fee to pay for stormwater improvements was a concern to some.
It was explained at the meeting that the Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Agency is requiring all municipalities to comply with its MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) standards for stormwater runoff.
“They make an assessment of your stormwater and the mitigation programs in place, and then they require you to do things to comply with the levels of mitigation they want,” explained council president Leo Atkinson.
He said the borough has already installed filters at various points in its storm sewer drain system, but more needs to be done in order “to make sure any stormwater getting into waterways–like the Lehigh River–is at a certain cleanliness.”
“Most of that from us will be by having additional filters in the storm sewer system, improving the storm sewer so it does not overflow and have unfiltered water draining, and having a few retention basins added to the system,” Atkinson said.
The EPA has given Fountain Hill a two-and-a-half-year timeline to meet the obligations of the MS4 program, which will cost an estimated $750,000.
In terms of funding the improvements, an increase in property taxes alone won’t suffice, which is why council is considering creating a local water and sewer authority that would levy a fee on all property owners in the borough, including residential, commercial and nonprofit property owners.
The amount of the annual fee each ultimately has to pay would likely be based on the amount of impervious surface on their property, Atkinson said.
Almost 50 percent of the property in the borough, when measured according to value, has nonprofit tax status, he said.
An average annual fee of $60 for property owners was the estimate given at the meeting, but Atkinson stressed it was an unofficial number, subject to change, and that “the fees have not been decided.”
Residents who use stormwater mitigation systems such as green roofs and rain barrels could be eligible to receive credits that would lower the fee they are levied. Planting trees could also help reduce their liability, it was stated.
Nevertheless, the residents who spoke about the subject at the meeting were upset about the possibility of having to pay an annual stormwater fee.
They were told that if the borough fails to meet the deadline, however, the EPA will impose a fine of about $33,000 for every day the deadline isn’t met.
According to the MS4 guidelines, about 450 trees also need be planted in the borough by the deadline to help prevent erosion and clean the air and water.
That’s why, throughout the council meeting, you could hear Mayor Carolee Gifford chanting “Plant those trees!” to the audience.
Continuing with the subject of water, borough residents can now count the days until the opening of the community swimming pool on Monday, June 10.
On the other side of the Stanley Avenue park, it was announced that two newly-hired supervisors are watching over the playground this summer.
Taylor Bennett, a schoolteacher, and Darvis Seaman, an experienced playground staff member, will act as assistants to the recreation coordinator.
In other business, council approved Justin Pietkiewicz’s request to hold a basketball tournament at the park on Saturday, June 29 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Snacks will be sold and tournament participants will pay an entrance fee, but all the money raised will be donated toward recreation in the borough.
Council also shared details about Fountain Hill’s annual Community Day.
Atkinson said this year’s main goal is to “have even more activities than last summer, so that people can make a whole day of it.”
Fountain Hill plans to add a few food trucks, have arts and crafts activities for kids, and invite the police and fire departments to join in the festivities.
Fountain Hill business vendors, St. Luke’s University Hospital-Bethlehem and the Bethlehem Area Public Library are expected to join in the fun event.
Atkinson said he hopes that by attending Community Day, “people can get a feel for Fountain Hill in the summer when it’s beautiful.”
Fountain Hill Community Day will be held Saturday, July 20 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the park on Stanley Avenue.
The next borough council meeting will be held Wednesday, June 19 at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall, 941 Long St., Fountain Hill. For a schedule of upcoming meetings, visit the calendar section on the borough’s website.
Tim Healy is a Bethlehem Township resident and a student at Boston College, where he studies English. Read more of his writing on the independently-published local website, The Valley Nugget.