by Jonathan Weaver
Nearly 230 local residents in East Franklin and North Buffalo Townships will be affected by a sewer line extension project.
Before the work begins, more than 20 residents of the village of Furnace Run went to the monthly meeting of the West Hills Area Water Pollution Control Authority to discuss the cost of the tie-in.
Those affected include residents of the villages of Walkchalk and Furnace Run in East Franklin, as well as Center Hill in North Buffalo.
Furnace Run Resident Debra Cornman acted as spokesperson for the group began by giving a brief history of why Furnace Run connected to the West Hills authority 30 years ago and not the East Franklin Township system. Board Chairman James Ternent, representing West Kittanning Borough, agreed that such was done due to the village’s distance from current lines.
She added that the current fee is less than $2,100, and along with the rest of the group requested it not be raised.
“I would hope that that’s all the higher our tap fee is going to be,” Cornman said.
Ternent said federal grant funds allowed the other East Franklin treatment areas of Adrian, Cowansville and Tarrtown to connect to the system at a low expense initially, but with a costlier monthly fee. He said he has heard of other Pennsylvania municipalities that had to pay up to $6,000 connection fees, and doesn’t envision that much of an expense, but couldn’t tell concerned residents what the dollar amount would be.
“The State has a regulation which tells us the maximum tap fee we’re allowed to charge. We’re in the process of updating that tap fee for anybody in our system at this point in time to see if that’s what it should be because over the past three years, we have spent capital money into the system,” Ternent said. “The existing tap-in fee may go up (but) we haven’t decided that yet.”
That fee – based on the value of the West Hills facilities – will be only one of the expenses those affected residents will have to pay after the project is complete. A ‘special purpose’ fee will also be applied to new customers during the next 20 years of the appropriate PENNVEST (Pennsylvania Infrastructure and Investment Authority) loan as long as there is debt outstanding.
“The tap fee for the three new areas will consist of two parts: the existing authority tap fee charged to anyone who comes into the system, and the special purpose part. The entire payment of (new customers) will go toward payment of the system itself…and we hold that back for special needs, (such as) for placement of equipment or expansion.
“So, there will be a higher tap-in fee (for new customers) than the authority tap fee.”
That ‘special purpose’ fee has also not been set, and will be voted upon by board representatives within the next two months. Overall project cost will not be determined until Winter 2013-14 when the project is complete.
“It’s kinda like going to buy a new car, taking it off the lot without knowing what you’re going to have to pay for it and getting the bill for it later it,” one resident said, to which Ternent agreed.
Another resident commented that most of Furnace Run residents are indeed low-to-moderate income and will have to start budgeting for the additional expenses. Officials reportedly agreed before last night’s meeting that a six-month discount period and possible payment plan options – such as those offered 30 years ago – will be offered to new customers.
Community Development Block Grant funding is also to be available to qualified residents in at least East Franklin Township.
To prepare for the expansion project, rates have increased more than $15 during the past three years to all customers in the system.
“There were many discussions around the table about how we were going to handle the relationship between the new (customers) and the existing (customers),” Ternent said. “The decision was made that we’re going to treat them the same.”
Ternent committed to letting residents know of the fees ‘as soon as (board members) know and assured residents that board officials will make sure that property restoration is complete as soon as possible. Homeowners will be responsible for hiring contractors for the actual line connection.
About 85 percent of the $9.6 million loan closed recently will be designated toward the expansion projects – which, according to a prior press release would require 1,500 feet of sanitary sewer lines, 3,300 feet of force main and 335 manholes – while 15 percent would go toward new equipment.
During the initial PENNVEST award funding, Senator Don White indicated that the project should be completed with “only a very minimal rate increase” to cover the cost of the work and materials.