Court rules local stormwater fee is a tax

West Chester University and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education do not have to pay an annual six-figure stormwater fee imposed by West Chester Borough.

  • Why? Because Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court ruled yesterday that the fee is a tax — and state entities don’t have to pay taxes.
  • In a lawsuit filed in 2018, the borough argued that the assessments are a fee for a service, namely, the handling of stormwater running off from buildings, parking lots and other impervious surfaces on the roughly eight acres of college property tucked inside the borough.

Was the court convinced: No.

  • In a 21-page ruling, Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon concluded the fee pays for the kinds of things taxes typically support: projects that provide a common benefit shared by the entire community.
  • A spokesperson for the state system referred questions to the university, which would have had to pay fees of about $132,000 per year. 
  • “West Chester University, as a state-owned institution, is satisfied with the Commonwealth Court’s opinion,” a school spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “Further, WCU remains committed to continuing to responsibly manage its stormwater.”
  • The university maintains its own stormwater-control system and has taken steps to reduce runoff, such as planting trees and installing so-called “green roofs,” according to the ruling.
  • Michael Gill, an attorney for the borough, said the borough is reviewing the decision and declined to comment on its next steps.

Why does it matter: Cities and counties levy stormwater fees to improve how they handle runoff from storms and to comply with environmental regulations.


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