Greencastle, Antrim water system merge advances

PAT FRIDGEN
An upgrade of the Antrim water plant is nearing completion.

At least two entities with something to say about it are in favor of Greencastle Area, Franklin County, Water Authority purchasing the Antrim Township Municipal Authority water system. GAFCWA made another offer Nov. 22. The ATMA board, after a lively discussion, agreed to move forward on a 3-2 vote. Bob Schemmerling, Chad Murray and Bob Coladonato favored taking the next step. Elwood Myers and Rodney Eberly were opposed, stating the lack of township control in a regional system bothered them.

The sticking point was representation of township residents versus borough residents on the new panel. In negotiations, ATMA solicitor Linus Fenicle suggested that if the number of Antrim customers ever exceeded the number of Greencastle customers, it would become a joint authority. That was rejected by GAFCWA members Jason Gerhart, Robert Miller and Gregory Rock. They also declined to establish a joint authority now.

Members of both sides attended a session Nov. 2 with Franklin County Area Development Corporation president Mike Ross mediating the discussion. FCADC backed a $1.25 million Infrastructure Development Grant, which allowed Antrim to expand its water plant, soon to be completed. The financial support was necessary since no developer had committed to settling and purchasing water, though Ross believed in the long run someone would come.

Eberly said the only reason to sell the system was to benefit the customers, and he couldn't envision they would gain anything. ATMA has 340 customers and Greencastle has 1,700 borough customers and 455 township customers.

"We need new customers," said Coladonato. "We only got one this year. Greencastle got Atapco (located in Antrim). A bigger system can expand and has flexibility, and can spread out the costs."

He asked what the chances were for ATMA to build up its system and run a line to Exit 3. Eberly agreed none, but he hoped a developer would pay for it.

Schemmerling said economy of scale would benefit customers, that rates would rise slower than if they remained a small system. ATMA's budget was only $215,000. A merge would be an economic advantage in drawing commercial developers, he continued.

The agreement called for Antrim to recommend members to the new board, and Greencastle borough council would appoint. It was a moot point as far as procedure, because state law said only council had that responsibility.

Murray noted that ATMA had no control anyway. The Board of Supervisors had the power to accept or deny any of their recommendations and to levy taxes.

From the conversations during the mediation session, ATMA members understood that no employees would be laid off. Schemmerling said that would allow the Antrim personnel to devote more time to other jobs that had been neglected.

The board sent the option agreement to the township supervisors for their consent.

Ross attended the Board of Supervisors meeting Nov. 23. He thought the joint meeting with Coladonato, Eberly, Antrim administrator Brad Graham, borough manager Kenneth Womack, Rock and  Miller, was "incredibly productive and everyone worked toward resolution."

They all recognized they had the same goal, to support present and future needs, he said.

Antrim solicitor John Lisko cautioned that the township should make sure it was repaid the full $1.3 million ATMA had borrowed. The agreement did not seem to indicate that amount.

Ross spoke of the composition of the regional board. Initially he expected the three serving on GAFCWA would remain, and two from ATMA could join, and get the longest terms of five and four years. The borough would respect Antrim's input on filling vacanices as they occurred.

"We have reasonable people who will make reasonable decisions," Ross said. "They'll do what is best for the community. There is no waiting list of people who want to serve. Representation will be a minor discussion point, if at all, in the future."

The supervisors will take action at the Dec. 14 meeting.