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Debt drives Rostraver sewage hike

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Thursday, March 7, 2013, 12:51 a.m.
 

A divided Rostraver Township Board of Commissioners on Wednesday increased sewage rates, approving what Chairman Andy Temoshenka called “unpleasant” but “the most sensible proposal.”

The board voted, 3-2, to amend an ordinance setting the rates. Temoshenka, Brian Sokol and Don Bottman voted yes. Gary Beck and Pat Egros opposed the change.

“There may be disagreements on this proposal, but I believe the majority of (both boards) believes this is the one that places the least burden on the residents of the township,” Temoshenka said.

Temoshenka was referring to the commissioners and the Rostraver Township Sewage Authority board.

“When we are elected as commissioners, we have a responsibility to satisfy our obligations and to do so whether the result is popular or unpopular,” Temoshenka said. “No rate increase is ever popular.”

Businesses and schools will be hardest hit by the rates, which are divided between two districts based upon the service debt for previous sewage projects.

Residents of both districts were affected as their quarterly allowance was cut from 9,000 to 4,500 gallons.

Under the former rate schedule, the basic fee covered the first 9,000 gallons used each quarter. Now, they will pay $5.75 per 1,000 gallons used after exceeding 4,500 gallons. The per-thousand-gallon rate did not change.

Businesses and schools had their previous 9,000 gallon-per-quarter allowance eliminated. Their usage fee increased from $12 to $15.75 per thousand gallons.

Customers in District 1, which comprises Fellsburg, the Sweeney Plan, Collinsburg and areas north of the C. Harper AutoPlex on state Route 51, will continue paying a $35 per month service fee.

Customers in District 2, which comprises Pricedale, Lynnwood, Todd Farm and Clair Manor, and homes along Route 201 and Finley Road, will continue to pay a $60 per month service fee.

The authority, which operates independently of the commissioners, faces a $700,000 budget shortfall. It owes $39 million in loans and bonds, and faces $184,000 monthly payments.

In December, the authority unanimously passed the rate structure, but members Bill Callaway and Ray Iacoboni have since expressed regret about their votes.

Temoshenka and Bottman noted the alternative of not passing an increase: having loaning bodies petition the county to intervene and possibly having a judge set rates.

“I don't think you want to see that happen,” Bottman said. “The first proposal the sewage authority brought us was zero allowance to the homeowners. Zero allowance.

“You pay for every time you flush the toilet. … We pushed back hard and said ‘That can't be.'”

Resident Charles Ward called the rate increase “a horrible idea.”

“I don't own a business in the township, I don't work for a business in the township … When you increase the cost of doing business, they increase the cost of their products,” Ward said.

“If you raise the sewage rates on C. Harper, guess what happens? C. Harper isn't going to say, ‘I'm a good guy. I'm just going to suck that cost up.' He's going to increase the cost of every car.

“When you increase sewage rates on Jake's Pizza, he's going to increase the cost of that pizza.”

For the second time in two months, Bottman asserted that although businesses might pass on costs to customers, the extra money would be shared with people living outside the township.

“I would argue, again, that the customers that are going to help pay our debt service are not solely Rostraver residents,” Bottman said.

“Rostraver doesn't buy all the cars at C. Harper. They come from everywhere. The shoppers at Lowe's, Walmart, Eat ‘N' Park, which are big contributors, are patronized by people from Charleroi, Donora, Monessen, I could go on and on.”

Beck and Egros, who had spoken out against the proposal, did not comment publicly before casting “no” votes.

After the meeting, Egros shared a letter he sent to the authority in June 2012, asking it to document cost-preventive measures to reduce the debt.

Temoshenka said Beck's and Egros' opposition was irresponsible, because neither submitted alternate plans. Bottman said the board “practically begged” for the two commissioners to come up with a better proposal.

Resident Carolyne Frycke asked the commissioners if the rate increase was “a short-term fix” and if the board was looking into forcing the authority to reduce spending.

“We did the best we could,” Temoshenka said. “As distasteful and unpleasant as it is, the only way to raise revenue to pay these expenses is to have a rate increase.

“I'm unhappy. In fact, I'm upset we are in this predicament. … But we have no choice in this matter.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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