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Port Vue council set to join host fee legal fight

By Jennifer R. Vertullo
Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, 5:11 a.m.
 

Port Vue council has cleared the way for the borough to join any legal action that may be taken regarding a $1 million annual host fee that the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport pays to McKeesport.

Several municipalities served by the authority have questioned the validity of the host fee and have discussed initiating a lawsuit, although none has been filed.

Port Vue on Wednesday approved a motion by Councilman Marshall Black to authorize the borough to participate in any suit brought by North Versailles Sanitary Authority and/or others regarding the fee and related issues.

“Our taxpayers gave the city of McKeesport $1 million to do what they want to do to our sewage bills, and that's not right,” Black said after the meeting.

The resolution was approved by a 5-0 vote. Councilmen Bryan Myers II and Doug Junecko were absent.

McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said he is surprised by Port Vue's decision but he is confident that nothing will come of it.

“The allegation presented by North Versailles and surrounding communities was that the city was generating revenues from our sewage authority to supplement the operation of the city,” Cherepko said. “By law, we cannot and are not doing that.”

An intergovernmental cooperation agreement stipulates that the authority must pay a flat rate to the city for services that include security measures, street opening permits, infrastructure repairs and shared equipment.

“Because the authority services numerous communities, the residents of McKeesport should not have to foot the bill alone for the services this city provides to the authority,” Cherepko said.

Black asked if the borough should impose its own host fee for use of the retention plant along River Road in Port Vue, or take a share of McKeesport's.

The host fee ignited controversy in North Versailles Township and other client municipalities whose rates were increased, and a forensic audit was initiated.

Authority officials maintained the increases were unrelated to the host fee.

Municipal authority superintendent Chuck Schultz confirmed that the forensic audit was simply a review of the authority's year-end audit, and that the authority provided no additional information to the auditors.

Black said the forensic audit did not justify the $1 million fee.

“(Auditors) found nothing to support what the city was asking for,” Black said.

The authority said rate increases are justified by $60 million it spent to comply with Act 537, an unfunded state mandate that included new treatment requirements and the separation of storm and sanitary sewers.

Cherepko said that mandate prompted several authorities to join McKeesport's system rather than continue to operate on their own, because they could not afford skyrocketing rates.

“What these municipalities are trying to accuse the city of with this forensic audit — they themselves are doing it,” Cherepko said. “There are communities that are billing well above what the McKeesport authority is charging them for sewage treatment. Some are almost double.”

Cherepko said those communities should be explaining to their residents what that overage is funding.

“We should all take a long, hard look in the mirror before we institute any frivolous legal actions against our neighbors,” Cherepko said. “I know we're fine where we are. The question is, are they?”

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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