Water issue ignites municipal fireworks

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

The passivity of the last joint municipal meeting fell to the wayside Monday night, as the three local governing bodies went head to head on a current hot topic. Members of borough council, school board and the township supervisors met to update each other on projects, and to discuss mutual issues. In September 2012 the session at the middle school lasted 30 minutes. On March 25 it ran two hours, with the subject of forming a unified water system unleashing passionate opinions.

Attending officials were: Greencastle borough council - Charles Eckstine, Craig Myers, Harry Foley, Frank Webster Jr., Wade Burkholder, James Farley; borough manager, Susan Armstrong; Antrim Township board of supervisors - Fred Young III, Rick Baer, James Byers, Pat Heraty; township administrator, Brad Graham; Greencastle-Antrim School District school board - Brian Hissong, Ken Haines, Eric Holtzman, Mike Still, Tracy Baer; and superintendent Dr. C. Gregory Hoover.

The past was resurrected as Young opened the discussion charging Eckstine was causing a contentious joint meeting two years ago.

Eckstine noted that at the time he said nothing ever came out of the meetings. Young continued that a recent proposal presented by Greencastle Area Franklin County Water Authority had been endorsed by Antrim Township Municipal Authority and the supervisors, but not the borough.

"Why is council swooping in and second-guessing them?"

Eckstine had already stated that the joint water committee comprised of representatives of all four entities had met four times, and a March 18 meeting included solicitors for both authorities. ATMA's debt and tapping fees were a concern. Antrim charged $1,200 per hookup while Greencastle charged $6,005. If the developer paid for the line, it was $2,655. The numbers were derived from the value of the systems.  Eckstine repeated the information and a worry that GAFCWA customers would have to compensate for ATMA's load. He had announced council was going to vote on GAFCWA’s proposal on April 1.

Heraty said an agreement between Greencastle and Antrim on service areas for water had expired, and would not be renewed except through the results of meetings such as was taking place.

He and Young read statements Eckstine made in 2011, the transcript taken from an audio recording of the joint  meeting.

Other people gave their input. Byers reminded everyone Antrim paid for a water tower used by customers of GAFCWA. Burkholder questioned how Antrim's debt service would be handled if a merge occurred. Citizen Curtis Myers presented some calculations on how a combined system would not impact customers significantly.

Hissong said he didn't come to the table to watch the back and forth arguments, but to hear about a resolution to the problems each municipality foresaw. He wanted both sides to look out for the community as a whole.

Myers stepped in. "Get out of the sandbox. The peeing contest has to stop. Bringing up two years ago got us nowhere in 2013."

Tracy Baer agreed. "You just wasted 15 minutes of my time."

With the temperament of some attendees elevated, Eckstine said he would adjourn the meeting if it turned into a shouting match.

Farley said he was not around for the past conflicts, but wanted everything laid out so negotiations could continue. Rick Baer supported him. "Put politics aside. Let the two authorities work it out."

Armstrong was optimistic a solution was out there. The GAFCWA proposal was more conceptual than anything else, and did not address certain key points. Greencastle personnel were more informed now and needed to consult the solicitors. Eckstine added that Greencastle's authority failed to uncover all of ATMA's loans during its due diligence, and that played a role in any decision regarding a merge.

Citizen Duane Kinzer implored everyone to stop airing their dirty laundry in front of the press. Young then criticized Armstrong for giving comments to the media about her reservations on how development, specifically coming from the Norfolk Southern terminal and Atapco's business park, could negatively impact the downtown if truck traffic increased there. Hissong said he had heard enough and rose to leave. Eckstine cut off Young and adjourned the meeting.

The topic of a unified water system kept many of the officials on school grounds following the meeting. Several clusters of people remained, talking.