Official: 'Good shot' sewer authority will vote on York wastewater system sale on Wednesday

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
The City of York's wastewater treatment plant Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The York City Council on Tuesday approved the sale of its wastewater treatment system. Bill Kalina photo

Members of the York City Sewer Authority Board expect to vote on the sale of the city's wastewater treatment system as early as Wednesday, members said Monday.

The board is slated to meet virtually at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Pennsylvania-American Water last week pitched the $235 million sale to members of the board, but officials said language in the asset purchase agreement still needed to be worked out.

“I think there’s a good shot,” said Phil Briddell, the board's chairperson, when asked about whether the four-member board would vote on the matter this week.

Approving the deal to privatize the wastewater system would require "yes" votes from three members.

More:York City officials say opposition to wastewater sale won't thwart budget plans

More:York City Council OKs $235M wastewater plant deal

If the asset purchase agreement is approved, it would trigger an up-front payment of $15 million.

But the Pennsylvania Utility Commission would still have to conduct a six-month review before officially approving the sale.

York City officials have said the sale is vital to plug the city's $14 million deficit that it had anticipated this fiscal year. York City Mayor Michael Helfrich drafted the 2021 budget to be contingent upon the sale.

City Council unanimously approved the deal earlier this month, a necessary move before the sewer board makes a decision.

"I am in favor of the deal, assuming we can work out the issues of the (asset purchase) agreement," said Michael Buckingham, vice chairperson of the York City Sewer Authority Board.

The City of York's wastewater treatment plant.
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

Mike Doran, president of Pennsylvania-American Water, last week acknowledged the concerns some municipal users of the sewer system have voiced, such as the possibility of higher rates.

"We understand that when you go through change, the unknown creates challenges," Doran said. "This process, we'll admit, will cause uncertainty at times."

Although the contract with Pennsylvania-American Water includes a three-year moratorium on rate hikes, other parties have argued it would only be a matter of time before rates went up.

Those concerns have largely been raised by the York Area Regional Sewer Authority, which is composed of five surrounding municipalities that use the system.

"If the sale with American goes through, rates will significantly increase once this three-year freeze is over," authority spokesperson Kelly Kelch said in January.

The regional authority in January said it planned to file a formal complaint with the PUC. Such a complaint would be considered during the commission's six-month review process.

The complaint could prolong the process and ultimately scuttle the sale, but the authority has to wait to see if the deal is approved before it can file the complaint, Kelch said.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.