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Export officials refuse to recognize new customer fee

| Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 8:49 p.m.

Export officials have refused to recognize the first month's billing of a new, $3-per-customer fee that the Franklin Township Municipal Sanitary Authority has added.

Last week, borough officials voted to not pass along the new fee to borough ratepayers for the April billing period, and they said they don't have enough time to incorporate the new fee until the June billing period.

“We were notified (by FTMSA) there were no projected increases,” Councilman John Nagoda said. “They missed the boat here.”

The sewage authority levied the equipment fee to help raise money for future replacement and repair projects.

The fee took effect April 1, after the authority's five-member board approved it in March. Authority manager Jim Brucker presented the idea in the fall as a way to avoid accumulating debt for repair and replacement projects during the next 20 years.

All of the communities served by the authority were notified by letter of the increase, Brucker said. He laughed when told that Export said they weren't notified.

“Every other community is aware and remitted it,” Brucker said. “We've been doing it for two months. Everywhere else, everything is fine.”

The authority serves about 10,000 customers in Murrysville, Delmont, Export, Monroeville, Penn Township, Plum and Salem.

Each community has a different sewage rate, based on size and services. After the increase, they range from $32.27 per month in Murrysville and Penn Township to about $41 per month in Delmont.

Brucker estimates that the fee will generate about $16 million during the next 20 years.

Unlike other communities, Export administers its own sewage bills. Sewage secretary Marlene Mahinske sends handwritten bills on pre-printed postcards to local FTMSA customers each month. Customers remit payment to the borough, and Mahinske forwards the authority's fees.

Mahinske said she didn't have ample time to order new postcards that include the rate increase.

“We had no warning,” Mahinske said. “We can't absorb this increase.”

Solicitor Wes Long suggested the borough withhold the April increase, a sum Mahinske estimated to be about $1,500. But that won't last for long.

Beginning June 1, customer bills will include the $3 increase, borough officials agreed. Long said officials did receive notice of the possibility of a fee implementation, but not of its passage.

Nagoda cited the authority's fall 2012 audit report, which stated that a rate increase would not be necessary in 2013.

“They need to be held accountable,” Nagoda said. “It's not right.”

This criticism is the latest salvo in a battle between the borough and the authority. Borough officials regularly criticize how the authority handles its money, including the implementation of an egg-shaped sewage digester. The project, which was designed to enable the authority to process more waste, was completed in 2004 but took several years to begin using.

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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