OP-ED: York City’s mayor and council must listen to all options that benefit their residents

Kelly Kelch
York Area Regional Sewer Authority
The City of York's wastewater treatment plant.
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

Since the beginning, the York Area Regional Sewer Authority has been steadfast on its goal of ensuring an outcome for the sale of the city’s wastewater treatment system that was in the best interest of both the city and its residents.   

While the purchase price seems exceedingly attractive, please remember it is the users of the system (especially the city’s residents) who will be paying for the purchase price on top of Pennsylvania-America Water’s rate of return. 

During the Dec. 22 City Council meeting, Mayor Michael Helfrich mentioned the city “needed” $197 million from the sale and anything above that was a bonus. It is important to remember that this “bonus” is not truly a bonus as it is an expense that will be borne by the residents and businesses of the city.

More:York City Council member scuttles sweeping budget overhaul

More:At least $175M offered for York City's wastewater system

More:York City Council president: Chances of budget deal are slim

More:OP-ED: There's nothing 'illegal' about discussing sale to sewer authority, Mayor Helfrich

More:Citing legal reasons, York City refuses meeting with local sewer authority

The ideal outcome would make the city financially stable while respecting the impact this has on its residents.

We are saddened that a decision is being forced without having heard the better local alternative, which is a win-win for everyone. The request for proposals process was designed to discourage, if not ensure, the authority could not participate. The fact is that, to date, neither the mayor nor City Council have been open to a meeting with the authority.

In addition, when we contacted Council President Henry Nixon to let us speak during public comment about the budget agenda item at the Dec. 15 council meeting, we were informed that any comment about the potential sale of the sewer system would be muted. Fundamentally, that is a violation of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law and the Pennsylvania Constitution. This continual denial of any third-party option is an issue we intend to raise with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

We strongly believe the authority is the most virtuous and largest saving opportunity short- and long-term for the city and the wastewater treatment system’s customers and residents of our community. Therefore, prior to making any final decision, we respectfully request a meeting with the mayor and council to discuss the authority’s alternative option that would offer a similar sales price for the treatment plant. We can get to a budget position that can restore and keep jobs as well as help with the city’s financial obligations as quick if not quicker than Pennsylvania-America Water.

As noted in the past, we expect future rate increases requested by Pennsylvania-America Water to unfairly burden city residents and homeowners. There is a local option, be it with YARSA and/or a local utility, that needs to be considered. Any refusal to even consider such an option is a dereliction of the mayor and City Council’s duty to the City of York. 

A purchase by the authority offers the shortest path to getting cash in the bank and meeting the city’s financial obligations. While we understand an upfront payment of $15 million is part of the agreement, these funds will not be deposited until 60 days after the agreement has been signed. Whereas the authority has underwriting available to provide all of the money within potentially a similar timeframe without the yearlong regulatory process required by the PUC that will also cost the city additional money.

In addition, protests at the PUC that are sure to occur as a result of the sale to Pennsylvania-America Water would be avoided that could make closing the deal in a timely manner even more difficult.

It is not only the mayor’s and members of City Council’s fiduciary responsibility to meet with any organization that can provide an option that is in the public’s best interest, but it is also the best outcome available that will benefit city residents, businesses and the community at large the most.

Again, all we are asking is for a few minutes of time to share our plan for purchase and how it could benefit the economic health and well-being of York City. Despite comments that appeared in the newspaper, this request is not illegal and it is in everyone’s best interest. Furthermore, a continual refusal to even discuss this issue with the municipalities that use 50 percent of the wastewater treatment plant will not be received favorably by the PUC.

For more information, visit

— Kelly Kelch is the West Manchester Township manager and the chief information officer for the York Area Regional Sewer Authority.