Stormwater transfer gets council’s OK

In a step that was three years in the making, City Council Thursday night agreed to transfer stormwater assets to Williamsport Sanitary Authority.

The authority plans to do its due diligence and can either accept or decline the agreement, according to Steven W. Cappelli, authority chairman, prior the 6-0 vote.

With council’s vote, the matter is forwarded to the authority.

After discussion by council, the city officials say they plan to hold on to its jet vacuum truck, estimated at a cost of $200,000. It was equipment that Mayor Gabriel J. Campana wanted the authority to buy from the city.

It may end up being sold or traded for a much-needed replacement to the existing street sweeper.

Before the meeting, Rebecca Haladay, city engineer, and Campana, expressed their concern that they were not a party to the most recent revision of the resolution until right before the council meeting.

“The city administration was not asked to review it and give feedback,” Haladay said.

“This is among the first time the administration was kept completely out of a revising a resolution,” said William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director.

To counter that assertion, however, Councilman Randall J. Allison reminded everyone in council chambers that the repairs and upgrades are requirements foisted on the city.

It is an unfunded mandate for communities throughout Pennsylvania by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Protection, he said.

The city simply didn’t have the manpower, finances or set-up to upgrade the stormwater system on its own.

“It is opening up a path we were not able to divert ourselves from,” Allison said. “There are no surprises, no backdoor deals and everyone knew the stakes all the way,” he said. “The decision is to implement the solution to the stormwater management for the city of Williamsport and the administration has decided not to be a part of the discussion tonight.”

Councilman Joel Henderson said it will be the taxpayers and authority rate-payers who are going to end up paying for the upgrades with upcoming fees and potentially increased costs for quarterly bills.

“The same people we are trying to save from a tax hike will be paying higher water bills,” he said. “Let’s work together to solve the unfunded mandate placed on the city taxpayers and rate-payers … instead of hurting each other in the process.”

Described as an agreement that was transparent and engaging people, if the authority approves it, it would place the management of stormwater assets, much of it an aged drainage system over a century old, that must be repaired and be in compliance by next August.

Among the mandates is a need to reduce sediment by certain percentages that gets into the Susquehanna River and then the Chesapeake Bay.

Council President Jonathan Williamson said council added three key amendments to the revision and among them debt incurred years ago during the construction of the Kohl’s project for stormwater drainage systems must not exceed $675,000.

“The debt goes with upgrades that occurred a few years ago,” Williamson said.

It is debt incurred primarily from upgrades to the stormwater system for Church and William streets during the development a few years ago of the department store at West Third and William and Church streets.

While the debt might end up being far less than $675,000, the amendment requires the continuation of discussion regarding the precise amount of debt, he said.

The amendment allows the parties to explore debt associated with replacing storm sewer pipes and the transfer goes along with the associated debt, he said.

That does not mean the city receives a windfall of up to $675,000, according to Councilman Clifford “Skip Smith, chairman of council’s public works committee.

“The amount is to be determined by further review and agreement,” said Smith, reading from the amendment.

Another addition in the revised transfer resolution is an amendment that requires the authority to be responsible if it “messes up” during system upgrades. The same applies should the city cause a problem before the transfer is official making it the city’s responsibility. A third amendment removes the process by which land development plans are approved and allows for further discussion on the matter between the parties.