Townships, fearing rate hikes, consider leaving York City wastewater system

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

At least two municipalities that use York City's wastewater treatment system are considering cutting their ties to the system entirely in fear that its potential new owner would hike their sewer rates.

Manchester and West Manchester townships, two of six other municipalities that use the city's system, recently began exploring options as Pennsylvania American Water Co. prepares to start negotiating rates that would take effect if the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission approves the $235 million sale.

Manchester Township's board of supervisors last week passed a resolution authorizing officials to investigate possible alternatives, while West Manchester Township is doing so without an official vote.

“We don’t want our residents to have their sewer rates quadrupled, so we’re looking at options,” said Lisa Wingert, chair of Manchester Township’s board of supervisors.

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The municipalities' concerns largely stem from the fact that only York City residents benefit from the three-year moratorium on rate hikes that was included in the deal.

Although Wingert said the municipality is in the earliest stages of considering leaving York's system, there are multiple options that could provide relief to sewer customers.

Those include the municipality building a new plant or by relying more heavily on the sewer facilities in Springettsbury and Dover townships, which residents already use, depending on where in the municipality they live.

Kelly Kelch, West Manchester Township's manager and spokesperson for the York Area Regional Sewer Authority, offered the same options.

“We’re looking at possibly building a small treatment plant,” Kelch said. “It could be an opportunity to maybe coming up with a municipal agreement with adjoining townships.”

In addition to West Manchester and Manchester townships, the authority includes Spring Garden and York townships as well as North York borough.

Officials from those municipalities did not respond to requests for comment.

The authority's members already plan to file a protest opposing the sale with the PUC but have not done so yet, Kelch said.

West York also uses the city's wastewater system, but it is not a member of the regional group because its wastewater collections system is owned by York Water Co.

West York officials, however, sent a letter to the PUC urging the agency to shoot the deal down, borough manager Shawn Mauck said.

Pennsylvania American Water Co. has not yet begun negotiations with the six surrounding municipalities, spokesperson Laura Martin confirmed Monday.

But the company remains confident it'll be able to satisfy the municipalities even as they continue to vehemently oppose the sale.

"We believe that as we work through this transaction, we will be able to reach mutually beneficial agreements that meet the needs of all customers, including those outside the city," Martin said in a statement.

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

JT Hand, president of York Water Co. — which would be responsible for any decision regarding wastewater treatment services in West York — said he's open to whatever it takes to keep local sewer rates at a reasonable level.

But implementation of some of the options being explored by Manchester and West Manchester townships could be difficult because they only have six months before the PUC makes a decision on whether to approve the sale.

Hand specifically mentioned rerouting wastewater flow to Springettsbury and Dover townships' facilities, which would require pumping waste uphill and entail a large amount of engineering and infrastructure.

“It’s absolutely an alternative, but it’s not an alternative which is possible in a very short period of time,” Hand said. “And perhaps not quick enough to avoid having to negotiate with Pennsylvania American.”

The $235 million asset purchase agreement between York City and the company took effect after the York City Council voted last month to transfer the responsibilities of owning the system from the sewer authority board.

The vote triggered a $20 million advance payment to the city and left Pennsylvania American Water Co. with the responsibility to pitch the deal to the PUC.

The company still has to submit a formal application to the PUC to acquire the system. Martin earlier this month said the company anticipates submitting the application within 60 days.

Pennsylvania American Water also must notify all of the system's customers of the acquisition, which can take up to 45 days, Martin said.

Once the application is accepted, the PUC conducts a six-month review process before making a final decision.

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