DEP Stops Reimbursing Agencies Due to High Demand

High demand has exhausted this year's fund to reimburse municipal sewage enforcement agencies for part of the cost of on-lot sewage permitting and enforcement, forcing the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to halt payments, officials said on Feb. 18.

The Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act, commonly known as Act 537, authorizes DEP to reimburse local government agencies up to 85 percent of the annual local cost incurred in ensuring that new and repaired on-lot systems are properly sited, designed, permitted, and inspected.

"Since the passage of Act 537 in 1966, DEP has reimbursed a portion of the local cost of permitting and inspecting on-lot sewage systems as an enticement to municipalities to establish and operate local sewage enforcement agencies as required under the law," Environmental Protection acting Secretary John Hanger said. "Many local agencies are incurring higher costs now and consequently are submitting for increased reimbursements, which has drawn down the available funding and reserve funds. We will not be able to resume these reimbursements until funds are made available under the next fiscal year's state budget.

"The department will continue reviewing applications from the current fiscal year in the order they were received so payments to local sewage enforcement agencies can begin again once funds have been appropriated for the 2009-10 fiscal year," said Hanger, noting that priority is given to local enforcement agencies that encompass multiple municipalities and that participating in a multi-municipal organization could increase the likelihood of receiving funds in the future.

DEP received $4.9 million in the 2008-09 state budget for the reimbursement program. Using leftover funds from previous years, the department has paid out more than $5.9 million during the current fiscal year, which has exhausted the program's reserves. There are approximately 95 applications pending worth $512,000. Those reimbursements will be paid first once new funding is available under the 2009-10 state budget.

There are more than 1 million on-lot septic systems in Pennsylvania serving an estimated 3.7 million people.

DEP encourages municipalities to consider following the successful models of other local agencies and attempt to recover additional program costs, perhaps even the full cost of administering the program, through increased permit fees.

For more information, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us, keyword: Act 537.

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