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Blairsville Municipal Authority considers increase for tap-in fees

The Blairsville Municipal Authority is not planning to raise rates for any of its services this year, but a possible hike in tap-in fees is being studied.

As the authority board approved its 2012 budget last week, member Michael Ritts reported that fees charged for the authority's water, sewer and refuse collection services are expected to remain at current levels in the new year. But the panel will be considering a potential increase in tap-in rates -- from the existing $400 for a water tap and $600 for a sewer tap -- based on a study by consultant Randy Krause of Bankson Engineers.

Authority Executive Director Ron Hood told the board Krause "feels that our current rate is way below what it should be. He wants us to decide what is fair."

Hood said it's important for the municipal authority to make that decision early this year, before development of housing begins in a proposed Riverfront Village. That residential development would be located on land at the west end of Blairsville's Market Street that is owned by the Blairsville Community Development Authority.

Member Ken Smith suggested BMA discuss the tap-in fees at its next workshop meeting, set for Jan. 9.

The municipal authority board approved the following budget fund totals for 2012: water, $746,786; sewer, $1,215,796; and refuse, $477,061.

Ritts said the funds, combined, reflect less than a 1 percent difference from the 2011 budget. While each is a balanced budget, Ritts noted, "Water is down and sewer is up" compared to the previous year's figures.

He said the largest change has occurred in the water budget, with the expiration of an agreement with another public water provider. He noted BMA no longer will be receiving $90,000 from the Blairsville-based Highridge Water Authority -- which, when it took over the former Lower Indiana County Municipal Authority, bought out the remainder of that entity's contract to purchase water from BMA.

Ritts said the sewer fund will increase by about $56,000 from the previous year. He indicated that the Burrell Township Sewer Authority, which is partnering with BMA in the expansion of the latter's sewage treatment plant, should begin chipping in its one-third share toward project financing costs now that work is nearing completion. The Blairsville sewage treatment plant provides service for the growing southern portion of Burrell Township.

The BMA refuse budget "stays pretty constant," Ritts noted.

"The main thing is no rate increase is anticipated at this time," he said. "We think we can live with that."

Project nears completion

Bankson's Mike Basista, manager of the sewage plant project, said contractors Galway Bay Corporation (general/mechanical), MARC-Service, Inc. (HVAC) and Bronder Technical Services (electrical) indicated they are at least 95 percent done with major work on the project, which also includes improvements to a main pump station. He expressed hope that work should be "substantially complete" this month. "We're down to the end," he said.

Work on the project, which included the addition of a third treatment unit at the plant, initially was slated for completion by the end of 2010, but delays and cost overruns have occurred.

The authority was approved for more than $15 million in state loan-grant packages from the PennVest and PennWorks programs to fund the project, but Hood later explained about $1 million in funding was withheld when the original bids for the work were lower than expected.

Basista said, with the extra costs that have since occurred, it's anticipated there will be a deficit of about $1.5 million in available project funds. He said the authority is asking PennVest to re-encumber $1.1 million in the withheld funding, leaving an estimated $340,000 in costs for which BMA would like to obtain additional state dollars.

BMA Chairman Terry DiBiase said the authority expects by the middle of 2012 to pay off the remaining debt on a previous sewage plant upgrade that was funded with a 1992 PennVest loan.

To pay bills for the current plant project up front, in advance of the release of money from the state funding packages, BMA has obtained a $1.2 million loan from Indiana First Bank. At last week's meeting, the authority approved drawing down $30,476.70 from that bridge loan to cover services provided by Bankson and by Garvin Engineering, a consultant for Burrell Township.

The authority board also approved a separate draw down of $159,785.74 to cover current bills for construction, inspection and engineering at the sewage plant.

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