Shamokin-Coal Twp. Joint Sewer Authority to officials: Customers are poor
WEIGH SCALES - A sewer authority member hopes to emphasize to state and federal officials the demographics of the Shamokin and Coal Township areas while they work to find funding options for the ongoing combined sewer overflow project.
Shamokin-Coal Township Joint Sewer Authority has $52 million in loans related to the separation of sewage and storm water by installing new lines and constructing a new sewer plant. The next phase, which would include new lines moving west from Sixth Street in Shamokin into the Fairview and Ferndale sections of Coal Township, is estimated at more than $22 million.
Customer bills are currently $49.50. That will assuredly increase while the project progresses.
To date, only the Springfield section of Coal Township has been completed; the sewer plant project is under way.
Authority members have frequently underscored that this project is an unfunded mandate by the federal government to decrease pollutants from ultimately reaching the Chesapeake Bay. They've also been sympathetic of consumer costs and have sought loan alternatives. They were successful in securing a $12 million grant to fund a portion of the $40 million sewer project.
Mike Carpenter, authority board member, said during Wednesday's meeting that the costs in any community, affluent or not, would be taxing on customers' finances.
"But then when you pass that on to people who absolutely positively can't afford it, it becomes more than just crazy. It becomes outrageous," Carpenter said.
Paul Petrovich, authority general manager, had met last month with staff of U.S. Senator Pat Toomey in hopes of securing additional grant funding for the sewer project.
Low wages, high unemployment
The News-Item previously reported that according to the 2010 Census, Shamokin residents earned on average $27,210 and Coal Township residents $30,910. The national average at the time was $50,046.
Unemployment rates for both municipalities are higher than the national average. Both had high rates of families living below the poverty level - 17 percent in Coal Township and 20 percent in Shamokin - and both hit double-digit percentages for families receiving food stamp benefits - 10 percent in Coal Township and 18 percent in Shamokin.
"Hopefully they understand the demographics of the areas they're serving as an elected official. But it's important that they know just how difficult and hard it is for the income classification of the people we have here now to meet the demands of what's going to need to be done," Carpenter said.
"Let's face it, (the cost is being passed on to) seniors and people who can't afford it," he said.
Scott Keefer, project engineer with Great Valley Consultants, said he would update demographics already shared with state and federal elected officials and their staffs.
In other business
The authority approved $266,424.94 in change orders for the electrical contractor, MBR Construction Services Inc., Reading, on the sewer plant project. That's $76,200.81 more than requested. The board members took exception to a revised change order that lowered credits to the authority for the purchase of conduit, raising the cost of the change order. They want further explanation on the matter.
Change orders are at about 1 percent of project cost for general construction, Keefer said, and about 5 percent for electrical construction.
The change orders approved Wednesday along with those approved last month won't be paid until the federal shutdown ends. The project is largely funded with federal loans. With U.S. Department of Agriculture staff on furlough, the approval and release of project funds can't be completed.
A project work order will be issued to a contractor on the sewer plant project to continue with the installation of a drywall ceiling in a plant building at no additional cost. The contractor had sought an alternative at a cost of $12,000, Keefer said. He recommended, and the authority agreed, not to approve it. Keefer said the order will require the contractor to continue the job but expects it will become a point of contention.
The authority voted to suspend water terminations for the month of December due to staffing issues and the holiday season.
The authority accepted an audit for 2012-13 by Klacik and Associates, which was said to have no findings, recommendations or deficiencies.