Role of ATMA examined

PAT FRIDGEN

In a civil discussion with strong opinions, Antrim Township Municipal Authority members met with Antrim Township supervisors to ponder the future of the sewer system. The lease agreement wording did not match how activities were actually being handled, so ATMA presented three options to better realign the responsibilities of each board. The meeting Oct. 31 was attended by ATMA members Bob Coladonato, Bob Schemmerling, Chad Murray, Rodney Eberly, Elwood Myers, and their solicitor Linus Fenicle; supervisors Rick Baer, Curtis Myers, James Byers, Fred Young III and their solicitor John Lisko; public works director Carl Rundquist; as well as Brad Graham, Antrim administrator and ATMA manager.

Coladonato said it appeared as if ATMA was a part of township government, but in fact it was not. Under the Municipal Authorities Act it was to be a separate legal entity, operating as a public corporation. Currently ATMA made recommendations to the supervisors but had no responsibilities for decisions, yet was accountable to DEP for certain standards. If problems arose with the sewer system, the state would come after the authority.

He saw three ways to address the issue. ATMA could become a separate entity, with its own employees, building, computers and billing system. "That would be very expensive and very involved," he said.

The second option was to maintain the status quo, with ATMA as an advisory board. The lease agreement reflected that ATMA owned the sewer system and leased it to Antrim, but there was still much confusion on which body had responsibility for which function. Technically ATMA took care of repairs and improvements, and Antrim took care of operations and maintenance. The third choice was for Antrim to take over the operation entirely, and set up a sewer commission for the advisory role. ATMA would then meet only quarterly to handle the finances.

Lack of communication

A lack of good communication between the two sides bothered Coladonato, Schemmerling and Murray. They wished ATMA had been consulted on major decisions of the supervisors. No one asked for input on sewer for the Comprehensive Plan now nearing completion. Some preliminary talk on rebuilding Hykes Road, simultaneously replacing sewer lines, had not included the authority. ATMA had set up a maintenance committee to get information from employees on plant operations, and when it appeared after a long delay, was wrong. ATMA was also disappointed that at times the supervisors ignored their advice and did the opposite.

"ATMA decisions for customers are different than what the supervisors may want," said Schemmerling.

Graham was frequently the messenger between the two boards, but Schemmerling saw that as a possible conflict of interest on who he represented.

Eberly, an authority employee in another municipality, liked the idea of ATMA standing alone. It would take stress off the supervisors, the employees would be dedicated to only sewer and water and "it would be a huge plus for the customers." Additionally, no staff member would have to switch hats for his managerial duties.

It's possible

Lisko did not see finances as a big obstacle. Since ATMA had recently paid back to Antrim a $3 million loan, it would not be out of reach to start a transition to independence "if the board of supervisors is willing to give up control. This is an ideal time to do it, and it's more efficient."

Rundquist thought the two bodies could share space in the municipal building. He believed an authority was important, especially "when things go bad." He knew the sewer utility was not on the average citizen's priority list but an infrastructure had to be maintained well.

Baer wondered about shifting power to the supervisors over a few years. Lisko said the lease could be torn up and assets transferred. Byers supported the status quo overall, as it had worked well for years, even if it was not the best choice. He expected communication to improve with Rundquist recently hired.

Water

Curtis Myers didn't think it was a good time to make major changes to the sewer system because of the flux of the water system, whether it would ever be sold to Greencastle Area Franklin County Water Authority, or expanded in another way.

Since the topic was introduced into the meeting, Coladonato jumped in. He was critical of the supervisors for violating an ordinance that required fireworks stores to be on public water. Keystone Novelties appeared at a conditional use hearing May 14 for permission to set up shop at exit 3 in a highway commercial zone. It would install a 20,000 gallon water tank for fire suppression.

"You didn't ask us. This was a way to extend a water line down Route 11. You never looked into it for them and other customers. The ordinance gave us a chance and you just threw it away. You acted independently without really thinking how it affects water and sewer."

Young then suggested ATMA quickly initiate plans to extend a water line to the interchange. Schemmerling threw the issue back. He said Antrim could act as the developer - design, extend and pay for the line. As an independent body, ATMA didn't have a business plan for the project and couldn't pay for it.

"Under the lease agreement, we don't have that responsibility," Schemmerling said. He also thought a regionalized water system, such as banding together with GAFCWA, should have been addressed in the Comprehensive Plan.

Because ATMA wasn't able to exert the power implicit in most authorities in Pennsylvania, he concluded, "Let's call it what it is. Let the lease

agreement say you guys make the decisions."

What to do

The supervisors as a whole favored the status quo for the sewer system, to buy time to consider the options. Coladonato pressed for a timeline. Graham and township secretary Mary Klein were authorized to change the wording in the agreement to match the financial responsibilities with reality, and both boards would revisit the issue at their January meetings. The current lease runs until 2020.