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CONTRIBUTORS

OP-ED: Mayor sees clear choice in York City: financial freedom or financial catastrophe

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

We respect our suburban neighbors and are disappointed that they have chosen not to support our pending sale of the York City Wastewater System to Pennsylvania American Water Co. — a sale that is clearly in the best interests of the City of York and the entire York region.

It’s important to understand that this sale is a choice between financial catastrophe and financial freedom. It’s a choice between looming, devastating tax and sewer rate hikes and a return to tax and rate stability. In short, we chose the best possible deal for the residents and businesses of York. And a thriving York City will yield a thriving York region.

Our suburban neighbors never produced any real proposal and chose not to participate in the public bidding process, despite receiving advance notice from city representatives.

More:OP-ED: Regional group to protest York City wastewater plant sale

More:York City Council moves closer to wastewater sale

More:York City to pitch nearly $250M wastewater sale, but mayor might not be there

All we know is that the suburban authority wanted to buy only the treatment plant itself and leave the city with the responsibility and cost of replacing the aging brick and clay pipe collection system. That would be a bad deal for York City residents and businesses, which is why we never intended to sell our wastewater system in pieces.

The bidding process for the purchase of the full and complete system was transparent and open to all qualified bidders. We followed that bidding process to the letter of the law. It would be patently unfair, and potentially illegal, to meet with parties outside of the RFP process. Any meeting outside of the process would have opened the city and its taxpayers up to litigation, a fact that the regional authority conveniently continues to ignore.

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. We continue to fight for economic freedom and tax and sewer rate fairness for York’s hardworking residents and business owners. They deserve nothing less than the best possible price for this valuable public asset. And that’s what this sale to Pennsylvania American Water will achieve.

We would hope that our suburban neighbors will end their opposition, as it does not serve the interests of the city or the region. They should be cheering the influx of hundreds of millions of dollars into our economy, rather than actively working to sabotage it. For the sake of our regional economy, we hope they’ll reconsider their stance.

Here are the facts about the pending sale of York City’s wastewater system:

Fact No. 1: The sale will allow the city to free itself of long-standing debts and invest in its future, bringing tax stability to York residents and businesses for the first time in decades.

Fact No. 2: The sale will likely result in sewer rate decreases for a large percentage of low-income customers, both in the city and in the region, who will qualify for Pennsylvania American Water’s annual grants and a 20-percent bill discount program. This discount is likely to improve to 30-percent later this year.

Fact No. 3: Pennsylvania American Water has committed not to propose a rate increase for direct-service customers for at least three years. After three years, the company would be required to seek approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission for any future proposed rate hikes.

Fact No. 4: Pennsylvania law allows utilities to spread the cost of acquisitions and improvements across their entire customer base, which would span more than 750,000 Pennsylvania American Water customers statewide. Any acquiring utility would likely seek a rate increase eventually, but none could spread the costs out across such a large customer base. By contrast, York Water Co. has just 70,000 total customers, meaning higher per-customer rate hikes to cover the costs of acquisition and improvements. In short, the pending sale to Pennsylvania American Water is the better deal for York customers.

The facts are clear. The sale of York City’s wastewater treatment assets to Pennsylvania American Water is the best option for York's residents and businesses. Let’s stick to the facts. This is York’s chance to own its future.

More answers to questions regarding a sale on the Wastewater Treatment Sale are available on the front page of the city’s website, www.yorkcity.org,  or available here.