WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)- Some business owners in Luzerne County say they are angry over what they say is an unfair increase in the levee fee.
That fee helps pay for the maintenance of the levee system that protects residents with the Susquehanna River rises.
The levee at the center of the controversy has been a sore spot for many people who live in the Wyoming Valley. Just about everyone agrees the levee system is needed, but there is much disagreement over who should pay for its upkeep.
“I don’t feel good about it,” says Phil Pisano of, owner of Phil’s Sunoco. “That’s ridiculous, they are killing the small guy, the small business is dead.”
Pisano says he could not believe what he was seeing when he opened up his levee fee bill last week. It shot up from around $470 last year to more than $800 this year.
The Pisano family has run the service station on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre for over 60 years. He says fee increases like this make keeping the doors open difficult.
“We are just paying too much,” says Pisano. “I would say we should pay our fair share and make it equal across the board.”
Scott Druby’s family has run Abe’s Hot Dogs for decades. They too saw a big spike in their levee payment.
“When something goes up we must increase our prices,” says Druby. “Everybody is hurting.”
So why such a massive increase?
“The free has been in place sine 2009 and this is the first year the fee has been increased,” says Chris Belleman, executive director of the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority.
Belleman says the money is needed to maintain the levees that protect tens of thousands of homes and businesses in the Wyoming Valley.
“We tried to hold the line for a number of years,” says Belleman. “In fact, the past two years we ran a deficit of course that is not sustainable in the long term.”
The fee is based on the value of the property. An average home owner might see a hike of as little as $36 a year, while more expensive land owned by businesses may see several hundred.
Belleman says the fee increase was no secret.
“Quite recently we had a public information session and it was quite embarrassing,” says Belleman. Out of 14,000 plus property owners in the flood plan only two individuals showed up.”
Belleman also points out that property owners would see their flood insurance rates double or even triple if the levee system was not in place and maintained, and the system was “decertified” by the federal government.
An argument has been made that all Luzerne County residents should help pay the levee fees, not just those living in the flood plan. That funding plan has never won enough support to go into effect.