Water system merger back on table in Antrim, Greencastle

— By PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

Local officials are finally talking publicly about the formation of a committee to deal with real estate — and it turns out that the water system merger is back on the table. Greencastle and Antrim Township entities have met in executive session over the past month and returned to appoint two people to the special committee without disclosing details. With borough council the last group to meet, president Charles Eckstine said at the Sept. 4 meeting the committee's purpose was to talk about forming a joint water authority.

The idea is actually a resurrection of a plan that has been in the works for four years and was floated as a possibility for a decade. Serious discussions got underway in 2008 when Greencastle Area Franklin County Water Authority (GAFCWA) offered to purchase the water system of Antrim Township Municipal Authority. Documents went back and forth to ATMA and the Board of Supervisors, but by Aug. 9, 2011 the supervisors sounded the death knell to the purchase offer.

A year later, they decided to renew the conversation. Antrim administrator Brad Graham said the board wanted to revisit the issue on how to bring the two water systems together. The point of contention which brought down the sale was a loan from Antrim to ATMA, he said. If GAFCWA acquired the smaller system, it also wanted to assume the loan, rather than pay it off up front.

Committee

The parties serving on the committee are: Rick Baer and John Alleman from the Board of Supervisors; Rodney Eberly and Chad Murray from Antrim Township Municipal Authority; Eckstine and Frank Webster from Borough Council; and Jason Gerhart and Robert Miller from GAFCWA. Graham and Greencastle manager Ken Womack are also on the committee.

Eckstine said Antrim contacted the borough about forming a joint authority, so the committee will make a recommendation at some point. However, he didn't think the process would be fast.

"Greencastle spent $40,000 to determine the value of Antrim's system," he said. "Now they must take the leadership role and do the legwork. There are many legal issues to settle."

Graham was a little more optimistic. The committee would meet as often as necessary, and he hoped the fine points could be resolved before the end of the year.

The two sides

ATMA has 340 customers. GAFCWA has 1,700 Greencastle customers and 455 Antrim customers. Greencastle's option agreement included a number of clauses, including its willingness to pay $15,000 for the option to purchase; put down $50,000 cash; repay ATMA's loan from the repair and improvement fund up to $195,000 for the Cedarbrook water tower; pay remaining principal and interest ATMA owed the township for engineering costs on the water treatment plant improvement project, then over $20,000; pay off a Penn Vest loan of over $225,000; and pay the balance of Antrim's loan from its purchase of Lincoln Utilities, over $651,000 at the time.

There were also points on usage rates, employees, membership on GAFCWA, and the possibility of a joint authority if the number of township customers exceeded the number of borough customers. Mandatory water connection ordinances also had to be consistent with PA Act 34 of 2008.

ATMA's assets were listed as the treatment plant, two wells, a water storage tank, a distribution system, accounts receivable, customer lists, associated legal rights, and any other ATMA property, and improvements at the plant.

Because the two water systems are so unbalanced in terms of assets, Eckstine was cautious.

"This will require some concessions on Antrim's part because we can't give away our residents' assets. That would be unfair."