Although the Center Street bridge improvement project has received substantial funding from PennDOT, the borough of Tamaqua is going to be forking $7,700 over to the Reading and Northern Railroad annually as a result of the project.
The matter came to light at last night's council meeting when Councilman John Trudich questioned the item on the monthly bills and motioned not to pay it, calling it "baloney."
It turns out that both the water and sewer lines had to be relocated as part of the bridge reconstruction and there was no choice but to route them through railroad property. Council members were surprised by the sum, and by the agreement.
"Did I sign this?" asked council President Micah Gursky. It turns out that neither he nor any of the other members of council did. Rob Jones, Tamaqua Public Works manager, said that the agreement had to be in place prior to being able to start the project and that the first year's payment had to be paid up front.
"It was given to us as signed and sealed," he said.
Authority solicitor Jeffrey Bowe handled the negotiations. The first year's payment will be partially reimbursed as part of the project. However, going forward, the borough is on the hook for the combined water and sewer fees, which together total approximately $7,700.
Council members were concerned that the figure could go higher in the future.
"What's to stop it from going to $77,000?" asked one member. "The bottom line is that (Reading and Northern Railroad's) got us," said Councilman Brian Connely, who serves on the borough's water authority. "It (the sewer line) used to go through the bridge. Now, the only way to do it was to go through railroad property."
Trudich said that the borough usually doesn't pay for easements.
However, due to the fact that railroads are covered under federal regulations, they are not subject to the same rules as private property.
There was a lengthy discussion about how the rate was determined.
Borough solicitor Michael Greek, who was not involved with the negotiation, said that the Public Utilities Commission was probably involved and helped to set the rate.
Adding insult to injury, the borough is currently pursuing the railroad to get reimbursement for work that the borough was forced to do on railroad property in the area of Pleasant Row. Part of the wall collapsed last year, which led to street damage.
The borough rebuilt the wall and repaved the street.
"They're not paying us for Pleasant Row and now they're going to bill us for $7,700," said Trudich. "Stop paying them any money until they start working with us."
Resident Tony Rodrigue said that non-payment might not be the best option.
"If you don't pay it, (Reading and Northern ) has the right to refuse you use of that line," he said. "(Reading and Northern) has the right to tear it out."
Council voted not to pay the bill; however, they plan to meet with the solicitor from the authorities to review the agreement.