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.
- However, the fees have generated controversy, particularly in Harrisburg, where the state government has balked at paying stormwater fees assessed by Capital Region Water.
- State Sen. John DiSanto, a Republican who represents parts of Dauphin and Perry counties, introduced legislation last year that would require state-owned facilities to pay stormwater fees in the municipalities that charge them.
- However, the legislation did not go anywhere.