A Tax on Rain? Whose Idea Was That?
March 25, 2020
“Not another tax.” That is what many property owners in 32 municipalities across Luzerne County said as they opened their sewer bills from the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority in early 2019. Inside was another bill, a fee or “rain tax”, that was imposed due to a federal mandate that would reduce pollution in the Susquehanna River that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The fee is based on the amount of impervious surface on a property.
The more impervious space, the higher the fee. An impervious area is anything that rainwater flows off of without seeping into the ground. Roofs, walkways, patios and driveways are all impervious. Residents soon reached out to Frank Andrews, veteran broadcaster and former politician who hosts an afternoon talk show on WILK Newsradio, Pittston. “When the bills first came out, we got calls, especially from senior citizens, crying that they couldn’t take one more tax. It started a landslide,” he said, “A woman got a bill for a driveway that wasn’t hers. Turns out it was an alley owned by the county. A picture of the area was taken by an aerial photographer.” Politicians had a somewhat lukewarm approach in the beginning to fighting the tax. “They said, let’s see what we can do to make the pain less, but we said, no, let’s make it go away,” Andrews said.
It’s truly a David vs Goliath situation but David isn’t giving up without a fight. Enter in Taxpayer POWER, a 501(c)3 nonprofit group. POWER is an acronym for “People Overwhelmed With Excessive Regulations” and the group of 20 is 100% volunteer. “The money we receive goes to signage, legal costs, etc. We need to get the attention of the legislators. About 95% of the population doesn’t want another tax.
We want to make the legislature aware of that fact,” said Mike Stash, Lehman Township, who is president of the group. “There are also businesses that have contacted us. One business owes $20,000 for the rain tax and in comparison, $16,000 in property taxes. Distribution centers like Chewy.com owe in excess of $50,000 for the rain tax. Some, like the Wilkes-Barre-Scranton International Airport owes $100,000. Who ultimately pays? We do, in goods and services. They are taxing churches, nonprofits, cemeteries. Even the dead don’t get a break,” he said. Stash said there is some questioning behind the issue. “The federal mandate was created in 2010 by President Obama. There is questioning of the science behind the effort. There are nonprofits who have become wealthy, like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and PennFuture. They started out with noble efforts. Their legal departments can take agencies like (Department of Environmental Protection) DEP to the max and take them to court. DEP was sued by PennFuture. So, they give in and enforce it. It’s a property tax on steroids.”
He said the tax is projected to grow 65% in 3 years. “Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority is buying buildings. They are planning on staying around. They also cannot be audited by the state. No state authority can. The 32 municipalities got together with the WVSA as a cost saving measure but it is still astronomical. Little townships threw their hands up. They faced bankruptcy,” he said. Stash said the group has two goals: “Get an executive order signed by President Trump to rescind the mandate. The second goal is to have the contract the 32 municipalities has with the WVSA go away. Luzerne County Council has hired a Maryland-based attorney to see if they can file an injunction against the tax. If we don’t get a handle on this now, we will be stuck with this and future generations will as well.”
The group has gained quite a bit of traction and the attention of local representatives. The Luzerne County Legislative Committee held a public meeting on February 18 for residents to voice their concerns. Among those in attendance was Congressman Dan Meuser, who Stash says, “has the ear of President Trump.” Andrews said the lawmakers have now become unified against the tax but credits the residents for their fighting spirit in making all of this possible, “The area had a reputation of rolling over and taking this stuff but this changes the whole mentality,” he said. For more information, including a petition against the rain tax, you can visit www.taxpayerpower.com.