YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — It’s still officially known as the York Area Regional Sewer Authority, from back when it hoped to buy the city of York’s wastewater treatment plant. But that’s not happening.
A sewer authority without a sewer? “Pretty much,” said Kelly Kelch, spokesman for the group of what are known more colloquially — and accurately, as it turns out — as the “connected municipalities,” because they depend on the plant, whose pending sale by the city to Pennsylvania American Water they have opposed.
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Those municipalities are Manchester Township, West Manchester Township, Spring Garden Township, York Township, and North York Borough.
What they really oppose isn’t the sale, per se, but higher sewer treatment rates they fear could result from it. And now they’ve gotten a glimpse of those potential rate hikes: 47% for households, according to notification by Pennsylvania American of a rate filing. That could mean rates increases of $15 for a typical household, according to the same information.
“This is going to have an immediate impact, especially when you’re looking at homes where the individuals inside are on a fixed income,” Kelch, whose primary role is township manager for West Manchester, said. “An increase like this is going to be really, really detrimental to them, and that’s what we’re fighting against.”
Although the precise numbers were new, they were unsurprising.
“This was something that unfortunately we expected and one of the main reasons why we were against the sale originally,” Kelch said.
The municipalities are protesting the sale with the commonwealth’s Public Utilities Commission and also pursuing other legal strategies, including arbitration with the city, because they feel it doesn’t have the right to transfer its connection agreement with them to the private utility.
The city has said the sale is legal and proper, and its first responsibility is to get the best deal for its own residents, whose rate increases would be capped for three years — a potential 8% at first, according to a similar document from Pennsylvania American. For them, according to the utility, the sale comes with helpful tradeoffs.
Newly re-elected Mayor Michael Helfrich “reminded residents that last year, the city of York proposed two budgets: one with a 48% tax increase and an immediate 41% wastewater rate increase, and the other with a proposal to sell the wastewater system,” Laura Martin, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania American, said.
As for the potential rate increases for surrounding municipalities, Martin said:
“The notice provided a non-binding indicative calculation of a potential future rate impact and provided actions customers can take to support or challenge the acquisition. It does not mean that rates of York City Sewer Authority are changing. Pennsylvania American Water’s agreement is to adopt and keep current rates in effect at closing….
For clarification, future rate changes will only occur after approval by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) sometime in the future. The table in the notice represents estimates of a potential future wastewater rate impact of the acquisition. These amounts could change and will depend on how the PUC chooses to distribute any Pennsylvania American Water rate increase across wastewater and water rates and among different rate and customer classifications.”