Program to hike access to gas OK’d in South Side

A pilot program sponsored by UGI Penn Natural Gas and the borough of South Williamsport could help some property owners connect to gas lines at a reduced rate.

Under the agreement approved Monday evening by borough council, municipal crews would dig trenches for a main gas line, while UGI would install the gas lines along yet-to-be determined streets.

In addition, property owners could be eligible for allowances from UGI that would lower hook-up fees. The allowances would be earned by purchasing natural gas appliances, according to Michael D. Miller, borough manager.

“The homeowners can connect much less expensively,” said Councilman Benjamin Landon. “It is a benefit to the residents of the borough and a relatively low cost to the borough because we would use our own equipment.”

One councilman, however, was not pleased with the arrangement.

Councilman Robert Cronin said the program subsidizes homeowners at the expense of borough labor and equipment costs to benefit a potentially small group of residents.

“We’re using borough money,” he said.

Miller said that while Cronin’s belief may be true, it is similar to using borough tax money to support the community pool that is used by a relatively small number of residents.

If the arrangement is done more than once with UGI, Miller said the borough could use Act 13 natural gas drilling impact fees to offset costs at no burden to taxpayers.

Councilman Henry Frey Jr. said that adding natural gas service to new areas would enhance property values while using an environmentally-friendly fuel.

“In my mind, it’s a no-brainer,” he said.

Surveys of interested property owners will be collected by UGI, according to Miller.

Council voted 5 to 1 to accept the program. Cronin voted against it, while Anthony Mussare, J. Bernard Schelb and Jeffrey Tompkins were absent.

Council also approved a drug paraphernalia ordinance that gives borough officers the opportunity to charge those found in possession of such items with a non-traffic citation instead of a misdemeanor criminal offense.

Last month when borough police Chief Robert Hetner discussed the proposal with council members, he said that it would allow his officers to eliminate paperwork and get back on the streets faster.

The ordinance also gives the borough the ability to levy its own fine of between $200 and $600 with possible jail time of up to 30 days.