Water system sale again in limbo

PAT FRIDGEN

Confusion reigned in the days following the Antrim Township Board of Supervisors Jan. 11 meeting. People from two entities were not clear on what really happened on a vote to sell the Antrim Township Municipal Authority water system to Greencastle Area, Franklin County, Water Authority. Clarity was discovered to be lacking on who would be exempt from Antrim's mandatory connection ordinance.

GAFCWA members learned at their own meeting Monday night that there was no agreement to sign, though they had attended Antrim's session, and thought the supervisors agreed to the language of the latest negotiated offer. The two sides have been bantering on terms since April 2009.

GAFCWA manager Kenneth Womack told Robert Miller, Jason Gerhart and Greg Rock he didn't have an agreement for them. He read an email from Antrim administrator Brad Graham thanking them for their attendance and helping further the progress of the anticipated sale.

Womack said there had been some discussion among the supervisors after the meeting, and they weren't sure what they had just approved concerning a mandatory connection clause. Some thought exemptions referred to three areas, along Hykes and Bemisderfer roads and the Hess Development, while others thought it only affected Hykes and Bemisderfer residents, he said.

"We all heard what we heard," Womack continued. "The township will write the minutes, and whatever is written will be approved."

Miller added they all understood that people with agreements with ATMA, either verbally or in writing, would not have to hook up to public water until their houses were sold, as those were the residents the township had authority over. It did not apply to Hess, which fell under Greencastle's jurisdiction.

"That's our concern," he said. "Hess has nothing to do with ATMA."

GAFCWA therefore took no action on a night they expected to finalize the deal.

Antrim's conversation

Two issues again drew much discussion from the supervisors last Tuesday. Graham announced up front that the township's mandatory connection ordinance was still a concern. According to the latest letter sent by GAFCWA, there was no provision in Act 34 of 2008 for exceptions to hook up when a public line ran within 150 feet of a property, and the authority planned to follow the law if it purchased the ATMA system.

Greencastle members Miller, Gerhart and Rock, and manager Womack were present, as was Franklin County Area Development Corporation president Mike Ross.

Supervisor Fred Young III said Act 34 took effect Sept. 2, 2008 and he thought property owners prior to that date were exempt.

"My concern is if there is a loophole, depending on interpretation, Greencastle could go back and ask residents to hook up if the lines were run in 2004 or 2005. It could affect Hykes Road, Bemisderfer Road and my development."

Young lives in the Hess Development.

ATMA installed water lines on Hykes and Bemisderfer in the past decade. The latter was then dedicated to GAFCWA.

In 2007 residents in the Hess Development off Williamsport Pike were notified they would have to connect to a new line running past their homes, in accordance with a 2000 township ordinance. After negotiations, Antrim Township and GAFCWA reached an agreement, which cut the connection fee nearly in half, and extended the timeframe from 90 days to eight years, or before a property changed ownership. The settlement was agreed upon in April 2008 and signed by Antrim that June.

The township is searching for any ATMA records on agreements with Hykes and Bemisderfer residents, since they were not required to hook up at the time those lines were run.

Miller told the supervisors connections were necessary to make sure the water system was most efficient.

"Every exception means other people have to pay to keep the line productive," he said.

Antrim solicitor John Lisko agreed that despite the township's mandatory connection ordinance, Greencastle could find people who should have hooked up in the past and didn't.

Supervisor Curtis Myers said the perfect time to require a connection would be when a house was sold.

"If you don't sell to us, you need customers," Womack said. "We all do."

The second topic revived was representation on the regionalized board. Currently the five member panel has three members from Greencastle. The trio has kept the two other seats open until the purchase goes through. Antrim asked during talks that it be allowed to recommend two people, and to be able to do so in perpetuity, though borough council was required by law to make the final decision.

Miller stated, "I don't think you guys believe us, but we've never looked at where people live. What you are asking is creating divisiveness. I don't care if all five are from the township. I don't even want to know."

He said in the past the board had someone who lived in Antrim but was a Greencastle customer, the only requirement to serve.

Young countered that because expansion was occurring in the township, the borough might not support that growth. Womack emphasized that the authority made no decisions on growth; it only provided water, and he was not aware of ever denying it.

"The only issue is laying pipe and who pays for it," he said.

Myers asked if Antrim could be part of the vetting process for new members, and also said, "I'm willing to bend on representation. We're all in this together. I gotta believe whoever is on the board will look out for everybody."

Miller informed the assembly that two members of ATMA had already offered to sit on the new board.

Young continued to insist. "I've talked to several council members and they are open to us sending names and they would likely appoint them."

Supervisor Sam Miller agreed with Myers. He said he trusted the board and didn't care where the members lived.

A Sam Miller/Myers motion to allow GAFCWA to assume Antrim's loan to ATMA, in the amount of $651,938, was approved 4-0. Young abstained on the advice of Lisko. The motion essentially granted the sale of the water system, with clauses that names be compiled of residents exempted from mandatory connection until their homes were sold, and other language changes. The sale would be complete 30 days after finished construction of Antrim's water plant on Sherwood Drive, likely in late January. Landscaping and paving in the spring would still be done, with certainty that warranties would transfer.

The officials agreed that GAFCWA, ATMA, the supervisors and borough council would get one last look at the agreement before it was final.

Ross, after witnessing the entire discussion, said, "Everybody had the same common purpose. It's a good deal for everybody."

Greencastle's comments

Womack said Monday that the 2008 agreement between GAFCWA and Antrim Township was never finalized. It remained in draft form. Robert Miller said it had been mutually agreed upon but then some supervisors had a problem with connection fees, expecting them to remain the same whether a person hooked up in 2008 or in 2016. GAFCWA wanted them to pay the fee that was in place at the time of connection, since they could go up or down.

The two said Greencastle stopped addressing the issue when it lost board members, and wanted to wait until it had five before discussing the matter again.

According to the official minutes of the Board of Supervisors, on April 22 and June 22, 2008, Antrim did act on the agreement.

Both times, Curtis Myers was authorized to sign it, and the notes said an April 2 meeting by two members of the authority, two supervisors, and the township and borough managers discussed the matter in good faith.

Womack recalled what happened next.

“Much like last Tuesday night, everyone walked away thinking the deal was done, though both sides also acknowledged the agreement needed to be reviewed by the respective solicitors. I understand the township supervisors approved and signed the agreement. However, our solicitor noted that the PA Municipal Authorities Act requires that the tapping fee to be paid, must be the fee in effect at the time of connection. So we changed that, and a few other minor things, and sent it back. The response we got is that we “reneged” on the agreement and couldn’t be trusted.”

He thought the issue was minor, because the tapping fee could actually decrease, based on the required Act 57 study. He also contested the idea that GAFCWA reneged; it was simply following the law.