Prospects of New Kensington water authority sale run dry
By Chuck Biedka
Published: Tuesday, August 21, 2012, 12:51 a.m.
Updated: Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The proposed purchase of the New Kensington's water authority appears to be dead in the water, as its attorney insists such a sale isn't legally possible.
Not everyone agrees with his interpretation of the law.
It's been more than six months since the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County (MAWC) sent a proposal to New Kensington. To date, no one involved has said how much the MAWC offered or any other details. And New Kensington has neither sent a counter-offer nor done any substantive negotiating.
Regardless, Municipal Authority of New Kensington Solicitor David Regoli said the matter is moot. A sale isn't possible because of a five-year-old state law, Regoli insists.
The Act 28 of 2006 covers such sales and requires approval of at least 75 percent of the customers or municipalities served.
But the law also states it covers municipalities that operate under home-rule charters, which New Kensington doesn't have. Regoli agrees with that point but said there also is language in the law addressing any action by an authority or city, he said.
Regoli said the applicability section is one place that shows the act applies to the New Kensington's water authority and obviates any such sale.The act says, in part: “This chapter shall apply to any action by an authority or city to terminate, convey or transfer a water or sewer system under 53 Pa.C.S. Ch. 56 (relating to municipal authorities) which are initiated after November 1, 2005.”
“It's covered,” Regoli said.
“No, it's not,” replied MAWC's solicitor Kenneth B. Burkley.
“I read the bill down to about the second paragraph or so (of Chapter 3), and it applies to a third-class city under home rule charter, and I stopped reading. New Kensington isn't a home-rule charter city,” Burkley said.
“If they want to sell, they can.”
MAWC Manager Chris Kerr said there “hasn't been any dialogue” between New Kensington and MAWC “for a couple of months.” Yet, he said, “We're still interested.”
“Any such proposal wasn't made to the authority,” said Municipal Authority of New Kensington board Chairman Ron Zampogna.
“That has to go through the city. We run it day by day, but we don't have authority to sell it,” he said.
“And I've never seen an offer,” Zampogna said. “When there was all that discussion in February, I never saw anything.”
The New Kensington's water authority is a separate corporate entity directed by an independent board, said city solicitor James Kopelman.
“The only thing the mayor and council do is appoint members to the authority. We have no say in the authority being sold or not,” Kopelman said.
City Clerk Dennis F. Scarpiniti said city officials individually reviewed the MAWC proposal but didn't discuss it as a mayor and council. “I don't believe it was solicited by the council,” he said.
MAWC Board Chairman Jerome DeFabo calls the situation a stalemate.
“We made them several offers and there has been no response on their end,” he said.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time they come to us. This has been hot and cold. Very cold for a long time,” DeFabo said. “I think it's a political thing.”
Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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