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Running water (authority)

Commissioners approve memorandum despite MABL board member concerns

Sentinel photo illustration by BRIAN COX
The Mifflin County Commissioners on Thursday approved a memorandum of understanding between the Lewistown Borough Council and the Municipal Authority of the Borough of Lewistown, clearing the way for the creation of a multi-municipality water authority.

LEWISTOWN — The Mifflin County Commissioners on Thursday heard the objections of one member of the board of directors at the Municipal Authority of the Borough of Lewistown to the memorandum of understanding before ultimately approving it, but also heard a rebuttal from the MABL executive director.

MABL and Lewistown Borough Council have both approved a memorandum of understanding that outlines the process by which Lewistown Borough will cede total control over appointments to the MABL board of directors in exchange for a down payment and a series of 30 annual payments. The new authority would include representation on the board from each municipality it serves.

Frank Berrier, a current MABL board member, addressed the commissioners about his concerns related to the memorandum.

“Let me start off by saying (fellow board member) Mr. (Ben) Rager and I were not opposed to a county authority,” Berrier said. “But before an authority is established, the finances have to be right and by our way of looking at it, the finances have not been discussed at the municipal authority meetings.”

Berrier said he and Rager “raised the issue” with the five-member MABL board, but “nothing has been discussed.”

Berrier also said the purchase price of the authority is not listed on the memorandum of understanding. He said the payments do not add up to the “agreed upon” price. Berrier attributed this to the process being fast-tracked to meet what he termed as an “artificial deadline.”

“Nobody’s done a financial analysis on the payment schedule and there’s no purchase price listed on the contract to tie everything together,” he said.

Berrier presented an analysis he said he has conducted that shows how much money each municipality would have in debt to pay to Lewistown Borough. He said Derry Township is “on the hook” for $3 million, Burnham Borough for $1 million, Brown Township for $1.6 million, Armagh Township for $1 million and Union Township for $1 million. Berrier said that money will “come from the water bills or be added to the water bills to go to Lewistown Borough and the municipalities’ water users are going to have it to bear.”

He said on the average, it amounts to $1,250 of water bill increases per user not living in Lewistown Borough although he did not specify a time period over which the increases would be spread.

“Why does Lewistown Borough get $13 million to walk away from it while the rest of your townships and municipalities get nothing?” Berrier asked. “What’s fair about that? All the money, all the equity that is in that dam and the water system has been put there by the users. Why should Lewistown Borough’s users get the benefit of $13 million while everybody else gets nothing?”

Berrier urged the commissioners to reach out to the involved municipalities to discuss the matter.

Later in the meeting, the commissioners unanimously voted to approve the memorandum of understanding.

After approving the memorandum, Commissioner Kevin Kodish asked MABL executive director Craig Bubb who was in attendance but not scheduled to speak to step forward and asked what impact the memorandum and the formation of a multi-municipality water authority would have on customers’ bills. Bubb responded that the agreement and payments to Lewistown Borough would not directly lead to a rate increase.

“Because of the way that the rates can be restructured, the debt can be restructured, we’re not looking at any impact to rates in the near future as it relates to this memorandum,” Bubb said. “Of course with the future, going down the road with capital improvement projects, expansions and things like that, there’s rate increases to cover those improvements.”

Bubb outlined how the formation of a new water authority essentially “resets” the timing on the debt service “back to day one,” allowing the authority a full 30 years to repay. That, he said, allows the costs to remain steady despite the money being paid to the borough.

Berrier, then gave a brief rebuttal to Bubb’s response, expressing once again that he feels the memorandum was agreed upon without due diligence having been done regarding finances.

In other business, the commissioners heard from Molly Kinney, who recently retired as director of Mifflin County Library. Kinney thanked the commissioners for support “both of me personally and your financial and vocal support for the library in general.”

“I really believe the library is a jewel in the crown of Mifflin County,” Kinney said.

Kinney discussed how Susan Miriello is serving as the acting director while the search for a permanent replacement for Kinney is conducted and what Miriello has done to help the library remain operational and even thrive in certain areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In one example, Kinney noted that because of the pandemic it is difficult to have story time — a popular children’s activity — in person, but thanks to the library’s YouTube channel, they have been able to not only continue story time, but also exponentially increase their reach. Kinney said a recent video earned about 500 “likes” when in-person attendance is usually around 25.

“As much as I hate that we couldn’t do the in-person, it has actually turned out to be a real unexpected boon for the library,” Kinney said.

Kodish, in turn, acknowledged Kinney for her service.

“We appreciate everything you’ve done for the library,” Kodish said. “Good luck in retirement. Enjoy.”

Also on Thursday, the commissioners voted unanimously to:

¯ Amend the action taken on July 16, 2020 to exonerate Decatur Township Tax Collector Cindy McKnight from collecting 2020 per capita tax bills as presented to a corrected total of 70.

¯ Enter into a three-year agreement with Mid-State Alarm & Security, Lewistown, to install exterior cameras at District Judge 58-3-02 (Jonathan Reed), install intrusion alarms at all three district judge offices’ and a three-year monitoring commitment at a cost of $11,370.60.

¯ Approve an application for county aid – 2020 liquid fuels allocation: Burnham Borough in the amount of $2,058.61.

¯ Approve a resolution No. 51 of 2020 changing bank signatures on the inmate commissary account.

¯ Enter into preventative maintenance agreement with Joseph T. Berrena, Huntingdon, for the cooling tower, boilers and prison kitchen equipment for the period Sept. 1, 2020 through Aug. 31, 2021 in the amount of $3,015.

¯ Enter into cooperation agreement for bridge replacement and rehabilitation with Oliver Township.

¯ Approve CARES Act fund grants to small business Revival Kitchen in the amount of $25,000 and non-profits YMCA in the amount of $35,000 and United Way in the amount of $12,123.04.

¯ Amend the hiring date of Ronald Anders for Children and Youth Caseworker from Sept. 8, 2020 to Sept. 21, 2020.

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