Deal to sell city pump houses closer

The city has drawn closer to positioning itself to sell two pump stations near the West Branch of the Susquehanna River to the Williamsport Sanitary Authority for $1 million.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which holds title of the stations, may be able to transfer ownership to the city, said Mark Benner, city engineer.

Should that happen, and Benner’s received a positive indication it may, the authority board would vote and City Council would need to finalize the plan, Benner said.

A cautious review of the details is in order, according to Jason Fitzgerald, the city’s economic adviser.

“Our firm believes it is very important not to rush into any transfers of municipal-owned property for short-term financial gain,” said Fitzgerald, president of Penn Strategies Inc.

“It is always better to analyze a transaction such as this and to carefully consider all of the pluses and minuses that are associated with it,” he said. “Any time the city turns over an asset, it must be fully aware of what it is giving away.”

For $1 million, eliminated would be the annual $80,000 payment to the city by the authority in a 10-year deal, he said.

“It would more likely be a line of credit rather than a one-time payment, if successful,” said William E. Nichols, city finance director.

City flood control workers would continue to operate the stations that pump away treated water or effluent out into the river and any repairs the city can’t afford would have to be part of the agreement, Fitzgerald said.

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said the purpose of the sale was to try to spare the need for tax hikes in the future. The city has indicated a three-year plan of 1.25 mills and 0.75 mills in the next two year to avoid distress but that can change if revenue arrives, he said.

Nevertheless, Fitzgerald said the city needs to focus less on one-time cash infusions and start looking at long-term solutions to financial problems.

At the authority, across the street from City Hall, members held private discussions about the land acquistion.

Attempts to reach Michael Miller, executive director of Williamsport Municipal Water and Sanitary Authority on the proposal, were not immediately successful Thursday.