Some Kiski Valley towns could get sewage rate hikes and decreases

April 1, 2018

The Kiski Valley Water Pollution Control Authority is calling for a rate hike in eight of the 13 municipalities it serves.

Hyde Park customers could face the biggest increase, at more than $18 a month. But debt service rates may drop in five communities in the authority’s territory.

Authority officials say the increase is needed to pay off debt stemming from a $36 million sewage plant expansion and other, smaller projects.

Over the next several weeks, the authority’s board — with one representative from each of the 13 towns — will debate whether to assess each community a different rate increase or create a flat, uniform rate.

The board will meet tonight to discuss the matter in a process that is expected to take about two months.

The rate change has been in the works because many of the member municipalities have updated their sewage systems and because the plant was expanded in 2016.

Debt service and water consumption, at a rate of $3.75 per 1,000 gallons, determine total bills for the authority’s nearly 15,000 customers.

The authority changed individual community rates in 2010, based on each town’s excess wastewater flow.

After the municipal system updates, the authority tested the sewage flows from each community again and proposed new rates.

Winners and losers

There are winners and losers: Hyde Park, at $18.21 a month, and West Leechburg, at $9.46, would bear the heftiest hikes.

Leechburg customers would pay almost $8 a month less, however, and Vandergrift’s rate would drop by $5.16.

While the authority provided a breakdown of the possible rates changes in monthly terms, customers are actually billed quarterly.

The increase in Hyde Park would be significant for residents there, said John Smail, a borough councilman who is on the sewage authority board.

“I’m a recent retiree and there are other retirees here, and the proposed rate would cause a hardship for the people,” he said.

Hyde Park was socked with the highest proposed rate hike because of increased sewage flow from the borough that has to be processed at the Allegheny Township plant.

The increased flow is a big problem, and a mystery:

The borough completed a sewer separation project in 2011. Officials theorize that stormwater somehow is entering the system, causing extra water to flow to the sewage authority plant.

Smail said he didn’t want to comment further until he consults with the borough’s solicitor.

Hikes disputed in the past

The last time the authority raised individual rates based on communities’ flow to the authority and the Kiski River, two communities filed a lawsuit.

In 2010, rates went up for communities where flow rates were high, and that were outfitted with old, combined stormwater and sanitary sewage systems.

Leechburg and Vandergrift were hit with rate increases of 56 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

They filed a lawsuit, claiming the town-by-town increases violated the authority’s agreement with its 13 municipalities.

In 2012, a Westmoreland County judge ruled that the authority was within its right to charge higher rates for excess sewage flow in communities that hadn’t separated their sanitary sewage and stormwater systems.

Like many areas served by old sewage systems, Kiski Valley Water Pollution Control Authority communities were under a state Department of Environmental Protection consent decree to limit sewage overflows from its treatment plant to the Kiski River.

Before the updated systems, the authority’s communities had 37 combined sewer overflow discharge points along the Kiski River.

Now there are only two, according to Dennis Duryea, authority manager.

Under the DEP agreement, the authority was required to collect and treat 85 percent of the sewage water; the authority now is able to process 89 percent of that water, according to Duryea.

The authority board, with each community representative able to cast one vote, will debate the rate changes for at least the next month, he said.

There is no deadline for a decision, Duryea added.

After the board reaches an agreement, the rates could be raised in as little as two months.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691, mthomas@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.