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Logan Township wants AWA representation

In 2011, when there was an opening on the Altoona Water Authority board, Logan Township supervisors asked City Council for permission to appoint a township representative, reiterating a request from a few years earlier.

If that had happened, it would have meant that for the first time, a non-resident of the city would be a board member.

Instead, council named a city resident to the post.

Now the township may have leverage to get that long-sought seat, which would be a recognition that authority service extends beyond the city.

The leverage is the recently revealed proposal for the authority to buy the township’s sewer system — a deal that both sides seem eager to make happen.

The supervisors are apparently determined to exercise the leverage the ongoing negotiations provide, as Chairman Jim Patterson last week said such representation was a “priority,” when asked about it by former supervisor Diane Meling, who favors the township having a seat on the board.

“Absolutely,” said Supervisor Joe Metzgar.

In addition to the city, the authority serves 12 municipalities with its water system and three of those with its sewer system, including parts of Logan, Meling pointed out.

She is surprised that some of those other municipalities served by the authority systems haven’t also demanded board representation, she said.

As late as 2011, it wasn’t clear that City Council had the power to appoint non-city residents to the board, but lawyers for both the authority and the city and a representative of the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association reported then that there was nothing in the state’s Municipality Authority Act to prohibit it — provided that an appointee is “a taxpayer in, maintains a business in or (is) a citizen of” that other municipality and that the other municipality is one into which the founding municipality’s water or sewer system extends.

In making the request for representation in 2011, the Logan supervisors pointed out that having it would be comparable to the township’s existing representation on other multi-municipal agencies like Amtran, AMED and the Central Blair Recreation and Park Commission.

Surely, township residents already have a financial stake in the authority, Meling argued.

Her combined water and sewer bills exceed her property tax obligation, she said.

She urged the supervisors to hold a public hearing on the takeover proposal to counter what she believes is a lack of transparency with the negotiations so far.

“How did we get to this place?” she asked rhetorically. “The public needs to know.”

The supervisors also need to provide information about the fate of the sewer department employees, she said.

There are five, including a billing clerk, a township official said.

The supervisors plan to negotiate a rate freeze for township sewer customers “for a period of time”; and plan to negotiate “to give the majority of the township sewer department employees an opportunity to transfer to AWA at the same or greater level of pay and benefits,” according to a written statement the supervisors handed out at a meeting.

Among benefits of the proposed takeover are a broader customer base, according to the statement.

Otherwise, the township’s “static customer base” will doom those within it to higher expenses for electricity, treatment chemicals, wages and benefits, because of inflation and government mandates, according to the statement.

The basis for negotiating the price of the system is a valuation “completed by a well-respected engineering firm” from Harrisburg, according to the statement.

If the takeover occurs, township sewer customers would see “few changes other than their billing would come from the Altoona Water Authority and any calls for service would go to the AWA,” the supervisors wrote.

Most of the township’s 5,300 sewer customers generally pay more than their authority counterparts, Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico said last month.

Potential savings from consolidation could come from decommissioning the township’s sewer plant at Pinecroft, after building a pump station and a line so customers now served by that plant would instead be served by the authority’s Easterly Sewer Treatment Plant on Old Sixth Avenue, said authority consulting engineer Jim Balliet of Gwin Dobson & Foreman last month.

The township system is in fairly good shape, according to Balliet.

The benefit for the authority would be the acquisition of additional customers, said Pacifico previously. The takeover would be “adding value to the system we currently have,” he said.

“It’s a real win for everybody,” Balliet said previously.

Authority Chairman Bill Neugebauer had no comment on the proposal to add township representation to the authority board, not having heard that it was part of negotiations.

Those negotiations are nearly complete, as far as he knows, he said.

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