Shade: No more plans to sell MABL
Council president: Sale would be detrimental to borough
LEWISTOWN — One of the most contentious local issues of the past few months has been the situation involving Lewistown Borough and its exploration of potentially selling the Municipal Authority of the Borough of Lewistown.
The situation has led to pending litigation between MABL and the borough as well as the creation of a memorandum of understanding that would lead to a new municipal authority with a new nine-member board comprised of people from all serviced municipalities.
Lewistown Borough Council opted to terminate the memorandum in December and has proceeded with the existing structure still in place.
Council President Venus Shade recently agreed to answer questions about the issue and council’s decisions regarding it. The questions submitted by The Sentinel via email and her responses in their entirety are printed below, as well as an additional statement from Shade.
What factors led borough council to opt to not appoint members to the Mifflin County Municipal Authority on the same rough timeline as the other involved municipalities?
It became apparent after reviewing the terms of the 50-page sale agreement prepared by MABL’s lawyers that a majority of council members were uncomfortable with the idea of selling the water system, including to a new county authority. I personally believe that a sale would be detrimental to the interests of future borough councils and its residents. Without strong support for a sale, action to appoint members to a county authority was not moved or approved.
What factors led borough council to vote to terminate the memorandum of understanding?
I believe council felt pressured by an artificial, end-of-year deadline that was demanded by MABL. MABL’s lawyers even reactivated the lawsuit against the borough to force me to sign the sale agreement without council’s approval. I wanted more time to consider the consequences of selling the water system. There was also a sense that MABL’s actions were motivated primarily out of self-preservation for its managers and lawyers, and not for the regional cooperation it claimed.
Does the borough intend to still negotiate a sale to the Mifflin County Municipal Authority or has it decided to go another direction? If so, what is that and why?
At our meeting on Monday, January 11, council agreed that it does not support a sale of the water system to anyone, including the county authority or private company. The borough will continue negotiations with MABL for a new agreement and a resolution of our differences.
What role does the pending litigation between MABL and the borough play in this situation from borough council’s perspective?
The litigation brought against the borough by MABL has been a tremendous waste of water customer money. I understand that MABL has paid upwards of $800,000 to its Pittsburgh lawyers with nothing to show for it. This craziness has to stop. The borough will demand an end to the lawsuit and the flood of legal fees.
Shade also provided one other statement.
“The Borough of Lewistown has been portrayed as a villain for the past year, largely as the result of continued public attacks and a false narrative projected by MABL’s employees,” Shade said. “It is easy to take a snapshot of the water system today and note that the borough no longer has a majority of the customer base. However, for most of MABL’s 60-year existence, the borough served as the core rate base that allowed the system to expand into neighboring areas. Those past and existing ratepayers are legally entitled to share in the investment they made over so many years. MABL changed its tune from claiming the borough’s funding request would bankrupt the water system, to now admitting that the same payments will have no effect on water rates. These deceptions and threats from MABL are what created a hostile environment and delayed negotiations. We hope that worst of those days are behind us as we search for a new agreement that will end wasteful lawsuits and continue water service at reasonable rates.”
Lewistown Borough Council regularly meets at 5:30 p.m. on the second Monday of each month. Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 8.