Sandy Supers Vote Down Sale of Municipal Authority to Aqua PA

DUBOIS – On Monday night, the Sandy Township supervisors voted, 3-2, against the sale of the municipal authority and its water and sewer system to Aqua PA.

Supervisors Jim Jeffers and Andy Shenkle were in favor of the sale.  However, Supervisors Mark Sullivan and Kevin Salandra were in opposition.

Supervisor Dave Sylvis eventually voted in opposition. He did say he’d vote in favor in the future, if there wasn’t any change before the start of next year.

During the municipal authority meeting, Salandra was asked to provide an update from the joint committee of representatives from the township and DuBois City.

The committee has been working to reach an agreement without it being necessary to proceed with a sale of the township’s municipal authority.

Salandra said due to budget work, there wasn’t any progress since the last meeting. Jeffers proceeded to read a prepared statement regarding future decisions based upon the past and present.

Jeffers’ statement detailed why DuBois City had proven – historically – to be of “bad faith.” After, he motioned for the township to sell the municipal authority to Aqua PA.

According to previously-published GANT News reports, Sandy Township previously received offers from both Aqua PA and DuBois City in the same amount.

DuBois City proposed lower rates, while Aqua PA would end the practice of tap fees. A tap fee is a cost to connect into the water and sewer system.

Jeffers gave additional details that had been discussed in private meetings involving the township, Aqua PA and DuBois City.  These included:

  • Aqua PA pledged to immediately begin work to repair the water and sewer infrastructure to reduce operational costs and to help repair lateral lines on customers’ private properties.
  • DuBois City declined to comment – when asked – about plans for system repairs.
  • DuBois City would charge current Sandy Township Municipal Authority customers different rates from city customers.

Salandra, who had opposed Jeffers throughout the meeting, confirmed Jeffers was in fact correct.  However, Salandra pointed out that in about three years, Aqua PA would petition the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission for a 20-30 percent increase.

Jeffers dismissed the notion and instead emphasized that DuBois City’s rates would also increase and by unknown amounts, which would require PUC approval if it owned the system depending upon the construction of a new sewage treatment plant.

“Without [that] knowledge, I don’t see how you can set an honest rate,” said Jeffers. As a private company, he argued that Aqua PA has the funding reserves to pay for immediate repairs, as promised.

Additionally, he said Aqua PA has the ability – legally – to assist property owners with repairs, something neither Sandy Township nor DuBois City could do.

Before the vote, Jeffers said, “a person who doesn’t look at the past is a fool.” He added he wanted to make the best decision for the future based upon his evaluation of the past and present.

He listed actions taken by DuBois City officials, which made it evident – to him – that the supervisors shouldn’t trust them. He started off with sewer bill changes that clearly “singled out” the township, a bulk customer.

Jeffers also brought up the “1983 agreement” under which the municipalities were to pay a Pennvest loan with a 1 percent interest rate over 20 years that was used for infrastructure.

According to him, it was due to be paid off in installments in 2009. As long as the agreement and loan were in effect, rates were to be locked in, unless both municipalities agreed to a change.

Jeffers said that around 2004, DuBois City officials paid off the loans early, and then changed the sewer rates on their own, which he felt clearly broke their agreement.

Salandra countered, saying that while it undeniably had a bad affect on the township, the agreement was tied to the loan, and paying it off early was permissible.

Sylvis indicated he didn’t feel the city broke the terms of the agreement. Instead, he said it broke the trust between the two communities.

Jeffers said Sandy Township was left to complete studies on the feasibility of building its own water and sewage treatment facilities; however, these were rejected by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

He said he was aware of two other long-term agreements, which involved DuBois City, that also didn’t work out.

Based upon Aqua PA’s plan, Jeffers said it would negotiate a fair rate with the city, while also having a back-up plan, an option Sandy Township never really had afforded to it.

He said DEP wouldn’t allow for the construction of the necessary infrastructure, so that the township could attempt self-sufficiency. Instead, he said it was left beholden to DuBois City.

Jeffers noted that with Aqua PA’s capital and political clout, it could fight DuBois City better than the township ever could.

Prior to the vote, Salandra argued that the new faces of DuBois City have been working with Sandy Township to turn things around.

However, Jeffers said he’s taken calls and talked to people who are near their paying limits due to fixed incomes, minimum wage jobs and unemployment.

Jeffers proceeded to motion for the township to sell the municipal authority to Aqua PA, which was seconded by Shenkle.

Sullivan and Salandra were thanked for trying to reach an agreement with DuBois City that didn’t involve the sale of the authority.

Shenkle admitted he had been optimistic at first, but over the last five years, things had become a headache. Sylvis apologized, but admitted that it’s hard to forget the past.

Sylvis tried to call for an executive session before holding a vote. However, Solicitor Greg Kruk indicated he didn’t believe there was a legal reason under the Sunshine Law.

He eventually voted in opposition with Salandra and Sullivan, so they had more time to notify DuBois City of a hard deadline on negotiations.

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