Residents surrounding York brace for sewage rate hikes

YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — What started as a heated debate within the city of York — whether or not to sell the city’s wastewater treatment plant, in exchange for $235 million and a promise not to raise city residents’ sewage rates for three years — has caught the attention of residents in five other municipalities.

That’s because the sale could impact them even more dramatically and immediately: No three-year rate freeze in those surrounding municipalities, who pay York to treat their wastewater under an agreement dating to 1976, and no offsetting benefits from the sale of the plant — city leaders wanted to sell the plant partly to pay off hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, mostly unrelated to the plant.

“I would imagine I’m speaking for a lot of people when I say that for us to open our sewer bill and see a huge jump in the cost, we would wonder why,” said Bill Stockwell, a resident of West Manchester Township, which is one of five municipalities that have formed what they call the York Area Regional Sewer Authority — the others are York Township, North York Borough, Manchester Township and Spring Garden Township.

The city sent the municipalities a letter alerting them that rates could potentially double and eventually triple, a fact Kelly Kelch, manager of West Manchester Township, says is unfair considering “over the last 22 years, those connected municipalities contributed approximately $80 million toward the upgrade and upkeep of that wastewater treatment plant.”

Still, said Jason Sabor, the city’s solicitor, “The connected municipalities are customers of the city. They don’t own that asset” — the plant, that is. “So certainly we understand where they’re coming from and their concern with rates. But it is a city asset and a city decision on whether to sell it or not sell it and who to sell it to.”

Pennsylvania-American Water Company is buying the plant.

Tim James, manager of Manchester Township and chairman of the nascent sewer authority, said the city is cashing in and paying off unrelated debt at the expense of others.

“This is their way out to try to control their tax increases,” he said. “But it’s on the backs of others.”

Sabol said the city was just trying to get fair market value — and the best deal — for its residents.

“We put [the plant] on the market, just like anybody who’s selling their home,” he said. “You sell your home, you’re gonna take the best offer. We got the best offer, and that’s what we’re taking.”

He said the rates the city warned municipalities of a worst-case scenario, and that they are free to — and can likely — negotiate new rates with the utility when the plant changes hands, likely late this year or early next year.

First the matter will go before Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission. Municipal leaders, residents and other stakeholders will have a chance to comment.

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