GAFCWA sticks to deadline for Hess Development water

PAT FRIDGEN

Members of eight households out of 10 in the Hess Development required to hook up to public water addressed the Greencastle Area Franklin County Water Authority on June 15, not happy with a May 25 letter they received, nor a follow-up denial to their extension request. The authority wrote that they had until July 1 to agree to connect to the line in front of their homes, or face consequences. The residents aired their complaints and left after the public comment period.

Authority members Jason Gerhart, Bob Miller and Greg Rock, manager Kenneth Womack, and solicitor Jan Sulcove listened but declined to respond to the concerns, except for a few challenging confrontations.

Hess resident Fred Young III spoke on behalf of his neighbors, and not as an Antrim Township supervisor, he said. He first asked to record the session, to which Sulcove said no, it was not their policy to allow any video or audio recordings of meetings. Young insisted he had to hear it from the board members, not their legal counsel. Miller also said no. He set aside the recording device. Sulcove asked if it was off and Young said yes.

He then asked for an extension of the deadline until Sept. 15 so people had time to meet with lawyers, and find out and evaluate the cost of connecting.

Linda Singley was critical of the letter itself and felt forced into compliance, since she thought the residents had been exempted in April 2007. She and Young questioned how Womack could have replied to their extension request letter so fast. They wondered if the board had met quickly and illegally to discuss the matter.

"It was a harsh and nasty letter," Singley said of the first missive. "It was handled in an inappropriate and inexcusable way."

Thomas Moore questioned if it was even legal for the authority to send the certified letter making the demands it did. "I was shocked by how it was worded and delivered."

Curtis Myers, not a Hess resident, but a township supervisor, asked why people on Shanks Church Road were not on public water, when they resided within 150 feet of a line, just as the Hess people did. He accused the authority of trying to save money by not boring under Williamsport Pike to those homes, and therefore, Hess should also be allowed to save their money.

The GAFCWA panel said they would answer all the voiced concerns with a letter. "Assume if you don't hear from the board, there is no change. Be guided accordingly," Sulcove told the group.

Young returned to the issue of when and how Womack decided to send back the denial response. According to his calculations, the manager had four hours from receiving the requests to posting the replies in the mail. He thought the Sunshine Law could have been violated. He demanded a 'yes' or 'no' answer to whether the board had met since the last monthly meeting. Sulcove began to speak.

"Yes or no," Young reiterated. "I want a yes or a no if you had a meeting."

"It wasn't necessary," Sulcove responded.

He held his temper as he then explained that the authority had passed a resolution giving him and Womack the power to enforce the July 1 timeline. "If you're not satisfied, consult your own attorney."

Formulating the answers

At the end of the meeting, GAFCWA crafted their responses to each of the issues the Hess residents raised.

Sulcove said it appeared they showed up not ready to decide if they wanted to hook up to public water, as was required under state law and an Antrim Township ordinance.

"We're beyond whether they wish to connect. They have to. There is no option. They only have a choice as to when."

The letter indicated that after the residents returned the agreement, they could connect immediately or by July 1, 2019. The latter choice gave them time to set aside money for the project.

"To grant an extension," Sulcove continued, "is an act of futility and a waste of time."

A separate public meeting was not necessary, he reiterated, based on the resolution giving the two the right to take appropriate action. "There is certainly not even a hint of a violation of the Sunshine Law."

Miller added that Womack knew time was short and he wanted to respond quickly.

The board agreed that the costs involved were legitimate concerns. The same numbers the residents received in a 2007 letter applied, $2,665 for the tapping fee, and $880 for any house that did not already have a curb stop. That applied to only one person. Plumbers would cost extra and any home further than 75 feet from the line would need to put in a meter pit next to the house. Therefore, Womack said those expenses might run between $500 and $800. The borough would send out an employee to help any homeowner understand what was needed if they asked for assistance.

The tap fee would only change if GAFCWA recalculated as required by law, but that process was expensive and not done often. Nevertheless, Sulcove thought it advantageous to connect sooner rather than later.

The residents would not have to cap their wells, but could use them for gardens, pools or washing cars, as long as the water was not connected to the house and would not enter Antrim's sewer system.

No one was aware of the necessity of the Shank's Church Road residents to be on public water, but they said they would investigate.

"If there are others, we want to know about it," said Miller. "We want them as customers, but we don't go hunting."

As the residents were worried about the affordability of hooking up, the authority said it would work with each of them on a case by case basis. They were open to payment plans. Womack wished people had called or stopped in over the years with their questions, but they never did.

As for the tone of the May 25 letter, Miller was dismayed that it came across so stern. "It was not conversational, but legal documents aren't. We did not intend to be hostile. But how to make it clear? We are not deciding to do this. The law says we have to."

Not everyone understood why the Hess residents thought they were exempt. In April 2007 the township supervisors passed a resolution waiving them from connecting, if it was legally possible.

"Greencastle's authority and obligation to enforce the connection is independent of what the supervisors want to do," said Sulcove. "All the supervisors can do is rescind the ordinance."

Miller was critical of the spokesman for Hess, stating he had failed to pass on a lot of information on what had occurred over the past couple years.

One resident in Hess connected to the water system the past week, Womack said.

GAFCWA still sits with three members, though it should have five. It had held the two seats open until its purchase of the Antrim Township Municipal Authority water system was completed. Negotiations are dead for now, so Greencastle put out the word for people interested in serving. Womack said there had been "nibbles of interest."

"We still can't fill our board," said Gerhart.

Other business

GAFCWA will explore a possibility to refinance a 2007 bank loan. Public Financial Management sent details on a bond which would save nearly $62,000 over a decade, the bulk in the first two years.

It accepted as a dedication 3,426 feet of a 12-inch water main on Armada Drive and Antrim Commons Drive. The line is in Antrim Commons Business Park.

The next meeting was tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, July 19 rather than the day before.