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York city faces opposition to the sale of its wastewater system.

Fight over York sewer sale heats up

Critics have lodged a flurry of formal protests this month over the sale of York city’s wastewater system.
  • The protests revolve primarily around the handling of wastewater contracts between the city and surrounding municipalities in York County.
  • The city wants to hand off its contracts to the proposed buyer, Pennsylvania American Water
  • But, worried about potential rate increases for their residents, the municipalities are pushing back.

How: In a series of protests to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which is deciding whether to approve the $235 million sale.
  • The protesters include Manchester, Spring Garden, West Manchester and York townships, as well as North York Borough. They all have wholesale contracts with the city to treat their wastewater.
  • The York Water Co. also has filed a protest out of concern for the sale’s potential impact on its wastewater customers in West York Borough. York Water owns the borough’s collection system and contracts with the city for treatment.
  • “We’ve got 1,800 customers whose rates will be impacted by whatever rate structure is put in place related to this transaction,” said JT Hand, president and CEO of the York-based utility, which bought the West York wastewater system in early 2017.

What’s the argument: Among other points, it questions whether the city can unilaterally transfer its wholesale contracts to Pennsylvania American -- contracts that the protests note are key to the sale’s financial projections.
  • The protesters also are taking issue with a request by Pennsylvania American, which is asking the PUC to wield its regulatory authority to transfer the contracts regardless of what the municipalities want.
  • Laura Martin, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania American, declined to comment on the protests, citing the ongoing regulatory process.
  • However, she wrote in an email, the Cumberland County-based utility has been working to review and modify the municipal wastewater contracts and is “hopeful that agreements can be reached with each party before the transaction is closed.”

The bottom line: Officials in suburban York have made little secret of their fear that the sale of the city’s wastewater system will spur higher rates for their residents.
  • While their protests raise many legal issues, they ultimately come to rest on that claim.
  • City officials have argued that the sale is needed to close gaping holes in York's budget.
  • "We’re also removing a long-term financial burden from our operations, as the City of York will no longer be responsible for the costly maintenance and much-needed upgrades of the wastewater treatment system," York Mayor Michael Helfrich said in an emailed statement, adding that he hopes the sale-approval process can be wrapped up in six months.

What’s next: The PUC has scheduled a telephone hearing on the proposed sale for 6 p.m. on Jan. 5.
  • The goal is to gather public input for consideration by the administrative law judge expected to make a recommendation on the proposed sale, according to PC spokesperson Nils Hagen-Frederiksen.
  • People interested in participating must register with the PUC by 5 p.m.

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Quick takes

WHO'S HIRING: Saxton & Stump. The Lancaster-based law firm has added to its practice focused on environmental, workplace safety and utility issues with the hiring of attorney Stephen Matzura. Matzura worked most recently as a member of law firm McNees Wallace & Nurick in Harrisburg.
  • At Saxton & Stump, Matzura will work alongside Kathy Pape, a former senior exec at American Water and also a former attorney at McNees.
  • Pape and Matzura are co-chairs of Saxton & Stump's environmental, workplace safety and utilities group.

WHO'S HITTING THE ROAD: UPMC. The Pittsburgh-based health system has created an in-house travel staffing agency as an outlet for employees attracted by the opportunity for higher pay and mobility. UPMC Travel Staffing will employ nurses and surgical technologists who will travel to staff the health system's 40 hospitals in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York.
  • The in-house agency is designed to reduce UPMC's reliance on outside staffing agencies but also to retain nurses who might otherwise join their ranks in search of higher pay.
  • UPMC Travel is advertising starting pay as high as $85 per hour to registered nurses for short-term stints, at least twice as much as what non-traveling nurses might earn.
  • The in-house service is being billed as among the first of its kind for a health system.


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Compiled and written by Joel Berg

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