The Chester Business Association (CBA) thinks the newly imposed Chester stormwater fee is all wet. In November, the Stormwater Authority of Chester distributed letters informing people that a base monthly payment would be $15.60 for stormwater fees.
Last Friday, the CBA, which represents a host of businesses including Widener University and Chester Charter School of the Arts, filed two separate complaints seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions against the Stormwater Authority in an effort to challenge the newly imposed Chester Stormwater Fee that ranges from a few dollars a month to thousands of dollars a month. If paid what it was assessed, according to one source, Widener would end up owing the city more than more than $1 million.
They have also been contacted by numerous other businesses in Chester who also wish to challenge the fee.
“It is our belief that a large coalition of Chester businesses and proprietors will send a strong message to the court that the fee is illegal,” said the CBA in a statement.
At a general membership meeting at TruMark Financial Club at Talen Energy Stadium on Friday, attorney Rocco Imperatrice, who is involved in filing the suit, spoke to a full room.
“We wanted to provide our membership and business owners accurate information so that they can make the proper decision on how they want to handle this issue,” said Antoinette Truehart, CBA president. She said the CBA was contacted by businesses that were opposed and confused by the fee.
Various business owners commented during the meeting how the fee differs for each property although they may own similar ones.
“It affects every property owner in the City of Chester. You may be renting space and when the landlord gets an assessed fee, they pass it to the tenant,” added Truehart. “If the fees get to be too much it will be prohibitive to operating a business. Then what do we do if businesses decide to leave the city?”
Compounding the confusion and outrage are other factors, according to sources knowledgeable about the situation.
The Stormwater Authority seeks to charge people a monthly fee, on a sliding scale, to do what Delcora already does and has been doing since its inception — capturing and treating stormwater through the sewer system — thereby already having the physical and technological infrastructure to do the job.
Delcora has also been under a court order since 2015 to address issues of water quality and controls and is on track to be completed by 2019.
The authority has no such infrastructure; in fact, the authority only has a small rented office that is not even regularly staffed, according to a customer who reported a closed office with a note on the door.
People connected to the authority have also raised eyebrows.
Its board is comprised of familiar political personalities in Chester who have no prior experience with public utilities and its executive director, reportedly paid $150,000-a-year, is a longtime environmental activist also with no public utility expertise.
Political observers see the authority as another attempt by city officials to raise the millions of dollars necessary to stave off a state takeover of the city in May because the city will no longer be afforded protection under the state’s Act 47 program.
Another person, at the county level who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said nobody has enough faith or confidence in Chester’s officials to want to give them any money.
“All they seem to do,” the source said, “is give money to each other. They have no intention of doing what’s right for the city.”
Staff reporter Katie Kohler contributed to this report.