Tamaqua Borough Council approved the "plain English" statement to accompany the ballot referendum regarding the wildcat sewers that they approved earlier this month.
The referendum, which asks voters if the borough should consider incurring up to $500,000 worth of debt to provide relief to property owners who were required to connect to the public sewer system by Aug. 31. The "plain English" version spells out exactly what that could mean for the residents of Tamaqua, including a tax increase or a hike in sewer rates.
The publication, which was written by borough solicitor Michael Greek, clearly states, "If the borough borrows the money the cost of repayment of such debt will be paid through an increase in sewage fees or through a tax increase for all property owners."
The proposed statement did not sit well with two of the property owners, Anna Brose and Joseph Lopez, who said that stipulations specifically prevent the borough from raising taxes to pay for a sewer project.
"This isn't paying for the sewer system. It's a private lateral. We'd reimburse residents. We're not doing a sewer project," said council president Micah Gursky.
Gursky also cautioned that whether or not the ballot referendum is approved by the voters, the residents will still need to pay for their connections. After the fact, the borough can consider reimbursing them.
If the referendum is approved by the voters, Council can consider incurring debt to reimburse them. The referendum is non-binding, so even if it passes, council is not obligated to incur the debt.
Resident Antonio Rodrigue asked council whether the commonwealth gives them the authority to reimburse private residents. Gursky said he was not sure and Greek said that it is not necessarily in the borough code. Rodrigue asked why the borough is spending the money to prepare the and advertise the referendum, when it may, in fact, not even be legal.
"Why are we leading these people on?" he asked.
The referendum still needs to be approved by the election board before it actually appears on the ballot.
Brose also added that she recently received another bill from the sewer authority.
"You know as well as I do that I'm not receiving services," she said. "This is fraud and you know it."
Borough manager Kevin Steigerwalt added that an additional illegal connection has been identified and three more property owners have connected to the public system. The borough has now inspected a total of eighty four sewer lines.
"Thirty four were removed, either they were connected or tested negative," said Steigerwalt. "There are 50 connections that still need to be addressed, coming from 42 individual properties."