York City Council moves closer to wastewater sale

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

A proposal to privatize York City's wastewater system on Wednesday survived the first of two needed city council votes.

The city council voted 3-0 to confirm Pennsylvania American Water's $235 million offer as the high bid for the sewer system and to move forward with the sale. Two council members, Edquina Washington and Judy Ritter-Dickson, were absent.

The deal isn't final, though. York City Council is expected to vote next month on the terms of the sale agreement with Pennsylvania American Water, officials said. 

"They approved selling the plant," Solicitor Jason Sabol said Wednesday night. "The only (outstanding) question is accepting the contract." 

The sale also requires approval by the York City Sewer Authority.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission would then conduct a six-month review of the potential sale before it is finalized, which city officials anticipate being later this year.

The privatization effort was pitched late last year by Mayor Michael Helfrich as a way to avoid significant tax hikes and the loss of almost two dozen jobs.

City council member Washington initially opposed Helfrich's call to sell the sewer system, temporarily stalling the last-minute gambit. She relented days later, and the city council adopted a 2021 budget which assumed the sale would bring in millions in one-time revenue.

More:Potential buyer makes pitch to York City sewer users

In a public hearing this past week, former York Water CEO Jeff Hines predicted sewer rates would triple in the years following Pennsylvania American's acquisition of the system. 

The company has guaranteed to keep rates flat for the first three years of its ownership, officials have said. 

Any future rate hikes would require approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, according to Mike Doran, president of Pennsylvania-American Water.

The proposal also commits to offering employment to all city employees who are assigned to the wastewater system

Pennsylvania-American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, is the largest "investor owned water utility in the state," according to its website. Its offer was the highest of four interested bidders. 

It provides water and wastewater services to approximately 2.4 million people.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.