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N. Versailles, city amicably resolve host fee concerns

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 4:17 a.m.
Workers Justin Kaminsky and Don Lundberg monitor systems at the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport's Cliff Street Pumping Station, which is the first of several renovated and/or new facilities to be up and running. This station pumps sewage from North Versailles Township and McKeesport's East End. Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News

North Versailles Township officials are on their way to amicably resolving their concerns regarding an annual host fee that McKeesport imposed on its sewage authority in 2012.

During the township board's December meeting, commissioners unanimously authorized solicitor Greg Evashavik to consult with North Versailles Township Sanitary Authority solicitor Jack Cambest to research the legality of that host fee.

At that time, North Versailles officials questioned McKeesport's $1 million host fee because it made headlines at the same time sewage rates were set to be increased. Cambest said the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport plans to raise township rates by approximately 28 percent, or $1.75 per 1,000 gallons. That translates to $10-$20 per quarter per household.

In response to that public discussion, township officials met privately with McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko to discuss the impact the city's host fee could've had on its neighbors in North Versailles.

“The mayor explained as much of it as he could to us, but there were some questions we asked that weren't answered,” board of commissioners president George Thompson said. “It has my attention, and it has everyone else's because it's going to affect the taxpayers of our township in a big way. I am looking for a few answers, and 28 percent is not what I want to hear.”

Municipal authority chairman Nick Shermenti said the authority's operations have not been affected by the city's host fee, and that the 2013 bill already has been paid.

“We had that money in a surplus before the rate increase,” Shermenti said, referring to past income gained through treatment of water used in Marcellus Shale drilling.

He explained that a bond, taken to cover state Department of Environmental Protection-mandated improvements related to Act 537, required several rate increases to be scheduled over a number of years.

Thompson said the estimated 28-percent increase is far beyond what North Versailles officials understood to be part of that plan. He said he hopes to speak with municipal authority board members or staff, who can answer questions that Cherepko did not.

During McKeesport's January council meeting, president Darryl Segina asked for an update on the North Versailles matter, and Cherepko said it had been resolved.

“The sewage authority is a quasi-governmental entity that is separate from the city, yet has strings attached to the city because we are responsible for any debts that they incur and cannot pay,” Segina said. “That's why I am concerned, and I've been talking about this concern for quite a while.”

Segina said the displeasure that has been made public in North Versailles also is present in the South Allegheny communities of Liberty and Port Vue as well as North Versailles' neighboring municipality of East McKeesport. He suggested that McKeesport's administration have a back-up plan in place for any legal action that these municipalities might take.

“I don't like to see this kind of thing happening,” he said. “We're supposed to be the leaders of the Mon-Yough valley, and we're not leading too well when it comes to that.”

Cherepko told Segina that the North Versailles matter is a non-issue at this point, because “I've already met with the North Versailles officials to demonstrate to them that this increase has nothing to do with our host fee,” Cherepko said. “Their concern was that they saw the host fee and then they saw the increase.”

Thompson said those concerns have yet to be eased completely.

“McKeesport's a friend of ours,” he said. “We want to work with them, but we want them to be fair with us.”

While Thompson said legal action is not being taken at this time, it's not out of the question. For that reason, he did not share the questions for which he is seeking answers.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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