11th-hour quarrel on sewer deal makes city look disjointed

It’s only early October, but Williamsport Mayor Gabriel J. Campana already has set the ground rules regarding the upcoming city budget talks for 2018.

Under those ground rules, the mayor said City Council should be blamed for any tax increase next year because it did not listen to his latest idea.

Council is prepared to sign over all of the city’s storm drains, pipes, catch basins and other stormwater management assets to the Williamsport Municipal Water Authority in return for the agency taking over the responsibilities for the system.

Council is handing over the outdated stormwater system for $1.

The move comes while the city is under the gun to make repairs and reduce sediment getting into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River as a means of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. Much of the system is a century or more older, deteriorating and falling apart, according to Council President Jonathan Williamson.

We suspect council is happy to be passing on its outdate infrastructure to the stormwater specialists.

But the mayor thinks transferring the assets for $1 is “a joke.”

“We need money,” he told council last week while suggesting he could negotiate a deal that brings revenue from the authority from the stormwater transfer.

He says taxpayers have approached him to come up with a way of bringing in revenue other than tax increase and a city union is prepared to file a labor grievance if the transfer leads to elimination of positions.

If the mayor can get a better deal, he should have it. But he should do so quickly, as this deal already has been the subject of public meetings and engineer reviews.

Why the mayor waited until the last minute to decide he could unilaterally negotiate a better deal we don’t know. And the early fingerpointing on the next city budget strikes us as not the best way to begin what will likely be a difficult collaboration with council in the coming months.

Whatever the outcome, the 11th-hour intervention makes city government look disjointed.