‘Compromise' deal raises rates, schedules study of Phoenixville water system

Phoenixville

PHOENIXVILLE — It took four votes spanning three months, but borough council approved raising water rates from $6.95 to $7.30 per 1,000 gallons Tuesday night.

The raise in fees will go hand-in-hand with an analysis of the borough water system by an outside company to determine leaks and inefficiencies that are driving up water costs.

Councilman Jon Ichter Jr. opposed the fee change on the first of two fee votes Tuesday night but eventually made the motion to raise the fees that unanimously passed at the end of the meeting.

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“You listen to the other side and you hear what they have to say and you decide it’s time for a compromise,” Ichter said after the meeting.

The last vote was the fourth one in the past three months on whether to raise the water fees.

“I think those of us who voted against the increase got what we wanted and those who voted for it got what they wanted,” Ichter said.

The council members who voted against the fee change in Tuesday’s first vote wanted the water system study.

A request for proposal will go out for the analysis.

Borough Manager Jean Krack said the raise in fees matches what it costs for the borough to put out the water. Without the raise, he said the borough would essentially be losing money that would have to be covered somehow, eluding last month to potential cuts in other areas of the budget.

Council Vice President Dana Dugan brought up the motion for the water fee change midway through Tuesday’s meeting. As head of the finance committee, she’s brought forward the fee change motion in both the February and January meetings but neither got a second and died.

This time around, Dugan’s motion got a second from Christopher Bauers, who said he’s been “very much on the fence” on the issue.

“I think we put staff on notice that we need to get serious about our water infrastructure,” Bauers said. “I trust that action is going to be taken. Unfortunately, right now, we don’t have a solution to throw at it. We can’t get into financial trouble in that fund right now. It won’t solve the problem, it will only create further issues.”

The fee change, which also included authorization of the RFP for the water system analysis, failed 4-3 in Dugan’s motion, which turned out to be the first of two votes on the matter Tuesday night.

Ichter, Mike Kuznar, Shai Perednik and Jeremy Dalton all voted against the fee change in the first vote, with Dugan, Jim Kovaleski and Bauers for it.

Jen Mayo was not in attendance for personal reasons.

Krack characterized the RFP and analysis as “costly.”

“How do we accept for a solution an increase to our neighbors?” Perednik said. “Would you be okay paying 30 percent more for gas if the gas station posts a sign that says, ‘Sorry, we have a leak for today, tomorrow and the day after that.’ Would you not go to the attendant and tell him, ‘Fix your leak or I’m not buying gas from you?’”

“Let’s fix the problem,” Perednik continued. “If it costs us a capital project, then so be it.”

Perednik also brought up water bill delinquencies in the borough which, according to the latest borough records, account for $942,242.89.

In response to that, Krack said he is preparing a measure this week to submit to the borough’s solicitor, Sean Kilkenny. Essentially, the borough would bring in collection agents to help recoup at least some of the overdue water bills.

Following the initial failed fee change vote, council had an agenda item scheduled to seek authorizing an RFP for analyzing the water system alone.

Dugan said she could not vote for that without the fee change.

“I think we’re putting our water company at risk,” without the fee change, Kovaleski said, though he acknowledged the leakage issue needs attention.

The RFP passed 5-2 with only Dugan and Kovaleski opposing.

It appeared the matter was decided until council returned from an executive session at the end of the meeting and Ichter announced that he was putting forth a motion to raise the fees.

“I came here willing to compromise and wanting to compromise,” Ichter said.

The second fee change motion passed unanimously.

Residents can expect a change in billing “beginning the second quarter of 2014,” according to the motion.

“It’s a prudent compromise,” Bauers said just before the vote on the motion Ichter made. “It allows us to move forward...I have confidence we’ll begin to find opportunities to improve the system.”

“Thank you for coming to this compromise,” Kovaleski said.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.