York City official: $235M sale of wastewater system expected to finalize in March

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
An aerial view of the York City Wastewater Treatment Plant on Black Bridge Road in Manchester Township.

The York City Council could approve the sale of the city's wastewater treatment system as soon as next month, but the deal won't be done until state regulators sign off on it.

A group of regional municipalities that use the system is opposed to the sale and has pledged to object to the deal.

City Solicitor Jason Sabol said Thursday he expects the York Area Regional Sewer Authority to follow through and file a protest with the state Public Utility Commission.

In January, York City Council voted to confirm Pennsylvania American Water Co.'s $235 million offer as the high bid for the sewer system, the first of two votes needed to privatize the sewer system.

Next, officials will need to vote on the terms of the sale agreement with Pennsylvania American Water.

"We'll see, we're still working on (the agreement)," Sabol said. 

Sabol said before council members can vote to sell the system, an ordinance to accept the contract and sell the facility must first be introduced — which could happen at the  council's next meeting, on Feb. 16. The council could then vote on the contract at its first meeting in March.

The city's 2021 budget relies on the revenue from the privatization, and the city council has already declared its intention to move forward. 

More:York City Council moves closer to wastewater sale

More:Officials: Neighboring municipalities will contest York City sewer privatization

If the York City Council votes next month to approve the sale, the proposal then goes to the PUC for consideration. At that time, opposition parties, including the York Area Regional Sewer Authority, can protest, Sabol said.

"We suspect, based on what they said in the paper, that they'll probably lodge their objection there," Sabol said, adding that the organization cannot stop the council's vote.

The York Area Regional Sewer Authority, consisting of Manchester, West Manchester, Spring Garden and York townships and North York borough, has for months lobbied York City to sell its treatment plant  — but not the entire system — to the authority.

York City officials — aiming instead to sell the entire system — have repeatedly rebuffed the authority's calls for meetings to negotiate.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said the coalition "never produced any real proposal" and accused the municipalities of attempting to bully the cash-strapped city.

"The regional authority wants to gain control of the city’s largest asset at a bargain-basement price, but the city will not surrender to the financial interests of our wealthier neighbors," Helfrich said via email. "We would hope that our suburban neighbors will end their opposition, as it does not serve the interests of the city or the region."

Kelly Kelch, West Manchester Township's manager and a representative for the York Area Regional Sewer Authority, said he thinks his organization has done its "due diligence" and that group members "believe they have a solid and fair" offer for the treatment plant.

"Our elected officials have worked hard to show sound fiscal management and practiced proper stewardship over our assets," Kelch said. "That’s why it’s important we also protect our residents from rate hikes which will be a result of a situation that is outside of their control."

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