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Elizabeth Township joins audit of authority

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 3:31 a.m.
 

Elizabeth Township has added its name to the list of communities seeking a forensic audit of the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport.

At a township meeting this week, commissioners voted 4-3 to pay $1,076.34 toward the audit, which already is supported by most other communities that connect with the MACM system, with the exception of Liberty.

Approximately 1,400 Elizabeth Township Sanitary Authority customers are tied into the McKeesport system. The sanitary authority has about 5,500 customers and is in the process of being terminated by the township.

North Versailles Township Sanitary Authority has been the lead agency calling for the audit, which aims to determine what, if any, impact a $1 million host fee to the MACM by the city of McKeesport is having on sewage rates in other communities that tie in to the system.

MACM has agreed to the audit, which is to begin on July 15 and is being conducted by the Allentown firm Loch Elsenbaumer Newton & Co.

NVTSA solicitor Jack Cambest said the audit will answer questions about how MACM spends its money, which will help to determine the legality of the fee it pays to the city.

Municipalities are questioning the fee, which the city levied on the authority in 2012, for being at least partly responsible for MACM raising its sewage rates by about 28 percent this year.

MACM board president Nick Shermenti has stated the fee was financed by a surplus prior to the rate hike and that rate hikes are to fund a bond to make state Department of Environmental Protection-mandated Act 537 improvements. Shermenti said on Tuesday that MACM remains on track to receive the audit.

Cambest said there could be valid reasons for a fee but the agreement does not spell them out.

To be legal, he said, the fee amount should specifically be tied to costs McKeesport will incur for having the sewage treatment plant within city limits.

“The surrounding communities believe it is just a way of funneling money to keep the city of McKeesport going,” said Cambest, who is representing Elizabeth Township in affairs related to the termination of the ETSA.

Not all commissioners in Elizabeth Township were in favor of supporting the audit.

While president Gene Francesconi, vice president Larry Vota and commissioners Claire Bryce and Chris Evans voted for it, commissioners Robert Thomas, Joanne Beckowitz and Don Similo were against the measure.

Thomas said he voted against the audit because he thought it could aggravate the township's relationship with the state DEP and the Allegheny County Health Department.

Those two agencies have the township, and its soon-to-be dissolved sanitary authority, operating under a consent order requiring a new line from the township's troubled Buena Vista treatment facility to the McKeesport system.

That project is behind schedule, both in Elizabeth Township and McKeesport, where MACM is in the process of upgrading its plant to accommodate the extra flow it will get from Elizabeth Township.

At a meeting between DEP and township officials last week, the township was told it must continue with plans to connect to the McKeesport system.

ETSA and the township signed off last week on a consent order issued by the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas requiring the authority to take all necessary actions to dissolve and the township to assume all of the authority's debt and responsibilities on or before Oct. 24.

ETSA debt is estimated to be approximately $32 million.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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