Disappointed residents of Washington Township packed the board of supervisors’ meeting last Thursday night.
A scheduled joint meeting between the supervisors of the township and the Washington Township Municipal Authority that night was cancelled on short notice by the authority. The explanation provided by the municipal authority was that two of its members had other commitments. Several residents were outraged by the cancellation and wondered if the authority was simply offering an excuse.
Residents hoped the joint meeting would provide some resolution to the authority’s $12 million debt and give a measure of relief to some of its customers who pay the highest sewer rates in the state.
The $12 million debt is guaranteed by the township and was incurred at a time when there was a great deal of proposed new building development. It was hoped the new development would offset the cost of the sewer plant expansion. Instead, much of the anticipated new development failed to occur because of the downturn in the real estate market. The dilemma the supervisors face is that the municipal authority is a separate, legal entity of Washington Township and they cannot force the authority to comply with supervisors’ requests.
Township Solicitor Daniel Becker said, "The authority is a separate legal entity. Although the township guaranteed its debt, the township cannot exert pressure on the authority until it defaults. The board of supervisors can ask the authority to take an action and the authority can refuse."
Becker added that the board can exert its power through its ability to appoint members to the authority. If the authority were to default, the board of supervisors could then disband it, take over its debt and find replacement financing - but only if the authority defaults. Until then, the supervisors cannot step in nor tell the authority what to do.
Supervisors’ chairperson Tonya Bauer explained to residents that if the joint meeting had been held, the board intended to make several suggestions on how to resolve the debt problem, including selling the authority to a third party, refinancing or contacting the bond holders.
Bauer said, "Thus far, the authority has taken no action. If there is no resolution the authority’s debt, supervisors must raise taxes on all residents; some of whom do not use the authority’s sewer services."
Bauer promised to continue to urge the authority to hold a joint meeting with the supervisors. The meeting would be open to the public. If such a meeting does occur, it will be advertised in local newspaper and on the township’s website.
In other business, supervisors voted unanimously to give a letter of support to a citizen whose property has been condemned by the sewer authority. The Court of Common Pleas recently ruled in favor of the citizen, but the authority has appealed the decision to Commonwealth Court.