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Municipalities say York City Council's sewer fee legislation is illegitimate

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

At least three municipalities utilizing York City's sewer system are alleging legislation passed by City Council setting sewer fees violates their intermunicipal agreement.

City Council on Tuesday passed a bill that sets sewer fees for municipalities that use the system — if the current agreement expires before new ones are negotiated with Pennsylvania American Water Co., which is planning to purchase the system for $235 million.

But the three municipalities contend any rates should be set with their input, said Kelly Kelch, West Manchester Township's manager.

"We don’t recognize it at all," he said. "Basically it’s the city’s attempt to impose future sewer rates outside the intermunicipal agreement."

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

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Shawn Mauck, West York's borough manager, and Gary Milbrand, York Township's manager, echoed Kelch's concerns and agreed it would violate their intermunicipal agreement.

“The borough’s position isn’t much different than West Manchester’s,” Mauck said. “I believe it would be something that would have to be mutually agreed upon.”

City solicitor Jason Sabol, however, said that the city has no doubt the legislation is legal and the rates are essentially the same as what municipalities are now paying.

The legislation was passed to create stable rates if  negotiations between municipalities and  Pennsylvania American Water Co. are delayed, he said.

If rate negotiations aren't completed by the time the company takes ownership, the current intermunicipal agreement would no longer exist and rates would immediately be set by the company. 

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

“We put this backup rate in place so there wouldn’t be any rate uncertainty in that limbo time between the connected municipalities and Pennsylvania American when they are negotiating their agreements," Sabol said.

If the negotiations go smoothly and are finalized by the time the sale is closed, it's very possible the municipalities wouldn't ever have to pay the rates laid out in the legislation in the first place, he added.

City Council President Henry Nixon said he was not aware of the municipalities' complaints, but he doesn't understand why they are concerned.

It's unclear if Spring Garden Township, Manchester Township or North York share the other municipalities' characterizations of the legislation.

But all the municipalities that use York's system, with the exception of West York, are also in the York Area Regional Sewer Authority, which opposes the sale of the system.

The authority still plans to file a protest with the state Public Utility Commission to kill the sale, Kelch confirmed.

Some municipalities have also considered building their own wastewater plants to avoid dealing with Pennsylvania American Water Co. and potential rate hikes.

Meanwhile, negotiations continue, Kelch said. At least West Manchester has received a draft agreement that officials are currently reviewing.

"We're still on track to submit the joint application for the sale to the Public Utility Commission during the month of June," said Pennsylvania American Water Co. spokesperson Laura Martin. 

The company is now meeting with employees and assessing needs such as safety equipment and any upgrades that may be necessary, Martin added.

Once the PUC accepts the application, it then conducts a six-month review before making a final decision.

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