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I-Team: Many residents are facing legal trouble for not paying levee fee

I-Team

LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE 28/WYOU 22 EYEWITNESS NEWS) — Pay up or face potential legal consequences. That’s the warning Wednesday night from officials with the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority regarding the levee fee.

Revenue from the fee pays for maintaining the levee system which protects about 100,000 people in the Wyoming Valley.

Officials at the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority say it’s all about keeping the levee system in top notch condition. But they say that is becoming a challenge because of people not paying the levee fee.

“It’s no nonsense, no nonsense. It’s we want to work with people. We want to be a good neighbor but if a ratepayer is not responsive we are forced to take these measures,” Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority executive director Chris Belleman said.

Measures that include taking a property owner to court if need be. The 12-mile levee system protects about 100,000 people and 14,000 properties. But flood authority officials say the toll is not being paid by everyone who receives that protection.

“Well for the folks who aren’t paying the fee I just want to let you know this levee fee is our whole source of revenue and we are dependent on this revenue for us to fulfill our flood protection initiatives, maintaining the system, performing capital improvement projects and buying new equipment,” Belleman said.

The levee fee ranges anywhere from around $60 to $1,200 per year depending on the assessment of the property. About 2,000 of the 14,000 property owners do not pay the fee. That translates into about $250,000 of the authority’s $2 million budget.

So those who don’t pay can face legal penalties.

“Well initially there are late fees and once that period has passed, the lien is placed on the property and ultimately after going through legal process, probably could be put up for a sheriff’s sale,” Belleman said.

“The fee’s important, as I mentioned, to maintain the facility to keep the residents and properties safe during flood events,” Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority chairman Dominic Yannuzzi said.

Donald Batista lives in Swoyersville. He pays the fee for two properties.

“It’s definitely a necessary evil. We don’t want to get flooded. At the same time I do not like paying it but I pay it because I have to pay it,” Batista said.

And the I-Team heard pretty much the same comment from other people Wednesday. Officials at the Flood Protection Authority say they will work with people who for one reason or another, maybe because of COVID-19 related issues, did not or cannot pay the fee to set up a payment plan to avoid possible legal action.

You can find more information on the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority’s website.

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