NEWS

Water committee has choice to make on possible Greencastle and Antrim merger

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

An old offer is still on the table.

Four entities are trying to work out an agreement to mesh two water authorities into one to serve the Greencastle-Antrim community.

A committee with representatives from Greencastle Area Franklin County Water Authority, Antrim Township Municipal Authority, Greencastle Borough Council, and Antrim Township Board of Supervisors have met several times, and will gather again Oct. 15.

GAFCWA had offered to buy ATMA’s assets in 2008, and negotiations ensued into 2011, but ceased when the supervisors voted not to extend an ATMA loan to the larger authority.

Talks resumed at Antrim’s request in August. GAFCWA presented documents to the committee on Aug. 17 and Sept. 20.

Council’s statement on the issue, formulated Oct. 1, said it “agrees that merging the water assets of the GAFCWA and the ATMA and creating a regional authority for water assets is in the best interest of the citizens of Antrim Township and the citizens of the Borough of Greencastle and is committed to merging the assets.”

It believed the best approach was the first of three options, which it had offered four years ago and which had been approved by GAFCWA, ATMA and Borough Council. It found that option the simplest and least costly method to merge, and could be done by Dec. 31.

Any other way of joining forces would result in “substantial, unnecessary expense to all bodies, most especially the ATMA,” council asserted, in a letter penned by borough manager Ken Womack. The cost would ultimately fall on the shoulders of ATMA customers and decrease ATMA resources for the sale.

Council wanted members to share at the next committee meeting why the sale of ATMA assets would not be the best solution.

The choices

The options pondered by committee members Robert Miller, Jason Gerhart, Rodney Eberly, Chad Murray, Charles Eckstine, Frank Webster, Rick Baer, John Alleman, Brad Graham and Womack are:

1. Complete the sale as proposed. The remaining key issue was representation, but according to the Municipal Authorities Act, the governing body of the municipality incoporating the board had to make the appointments. That was Borough Council. There would be legal costs involved with refinancing ATMA’s debt and transferring assets.

2. One authority joins another authority. Members would be appointed by their original authorities. There would be the same legal costs, and ATMA might have to separate from its sewer responsibilities, so that only the water portion transferred.

3. Dissolve GAFCWA and ATMA and create a new authority. The borough considered this the most complex and expensive choice, and would have to fit under the municipal act laws.

Womack closed his letter reminding the committee that all four groups would have to coordinate efforts for a merge, and they should support the mutual goal.

“At the outset, before we go down this road, there should be an agreement of the various municipal entities that this joint authority will be approved as we move forward.”

He had no comment on the status of the situation, with the original offer still in the forefront.

Graham, township administrator, issued a statement.  

“The purpose of the Joint Water Committee is to work through the issues encountered with the end goal of merging the two water systems. As part of that process the Borough Council has expressed their concerns about the most recent option presented by the committee members from the township. The reason for proposing another option (something other than the sale of the system) was to create an authority that would represent all of the users equally while remaining autonomous of the governing bodies. We hope to show that many of the costs associated with bringing the two systems together would be the same regardless of the decided method (purchase or joining/merging), and that any additional costs from the recent option would be minimal. We (the ATMA and the supervisors) remain hopeful that the negotiation process can continue toward the merging of the systems for the benefit of the entire Greencastle area.”