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Tamaqua hears pitch on how to save on utility bills

Published August 22. 2012 05:02PM

The Borough of Tamaqua may have an opportunity to save or recoup erroneous charges on its utility bills. However, following the MEM (Municipal Energy Managers) debacle, which was also supposed to result in large savings in utilities and instead has cost the borough approximately $400,000 and involved them in a lawsuit, council remains skeptical.

Vincent DeMaio, of National Utility Refund, made a short presentation to council explaining that his company, which has offices in Allentown and Greensboro, N.C., examines old utility bills, looking for erroneous charges and charges that could be avoided.

"About 80 percent of the time, we do find erroneous charges," he said. "We only invoice when we find something, and you get a refund," he said, explaining that the company works on a contingency basis, asking for 50 percent of any charges that are recouped, as well as 50 percent of avoided charges for a 24-month period.

"We only get paid when you get a refund," said DeMaio.

DeMaio said the company has auditors who have been in the business for over 20 years and they are currently working with several local boroughs, including Shenandoah and Mt. Carmel.

"Mt. Carmel will be receiving a substantial payment," he said.

Some questions arose when Councilman Tom Cara questioned why the company is working with small boroughs, instead of larger cities, and asked for references from larger cities. DeMaio said that the company works through affiliates and he could not provide that information, since it was the affiliates'.

They are currently affiliated with Black Diamond Energy Consultants in this area. DeMaio said that he would have no problem providing references.

Council President Micah Gursky said that the borough was not in a position to make any sort of decision at this point and referred the matter to the borough manager, Kevin Steigerwalt.

In other matters, council approved the advertisement of an ordinance making South Patterson Street a northbound, one-way street from the north side of 420 East Broad Street to East Broad Street. The property, the old Akins building, recently underwent a $3.8 million renovation and is now a 12-unit apartment complex. Residents will be exiting the building's garage at the corner of the building and Pat Stefanek, the affiliate director of ABC (Alliance for Building Communities), submitted a letter last month, asking that something be done to prevent residents from entering into oncoming traffic at a blind corner.

A motion to table the decision failed, and after some discussion, the motion passed 4-3. Mayor Christian Morrison said that the change could always be undone in the future if it did not work out.

Steigerwalt advised council that there are still about 20 properties that have not connected to the sewer, in the ongoing wildcat sewer project. Of those 20, he felt that five or six of the property owners may end up being directed to the magistrate's office for resolution. The deadline for connection is the end of this month, and property owners who are not connected will be cited with violating the town's sewer ordinance.

Gursky said that the project started with about 75 connections needing to be done, and three or four more were added along the way.

Council received one bid for the property at 223 Pine St. that is being offered for sale and rejected it as it was not fair market value.

Council received a bid of approximately $15,000 for the removal of trees at the Owl Creek Reservoir. Council asked for the bid after the Owl Creek Reservoir Commission requested the trees be removed.

They also received two proposals for the installation of riprap on the water side of the upper damn. The current plans call for grass to be planted in the area, and Steigerwalt said that the riprap would result in less maintenance. Councilman John Trudich questioned why the riprap wasn't included in the original plans.

"They raised the damn with dirt, and now they're going to plant grass on it," he said. "You may as well wash that down the drain."

The bid for the machine placed riprap was approximately $125,000. The borough will be responsible for 20 percent of the cost and the state will reimburse the other 80 percent. The tree removal costs are not eligible for reimbursement.

Council approved the advertisement of bids for a new pool slide at the H.D. Buehler Memorial Pool. Trudich raised questions as to why the pool slide was being pursued when the bath houses at the pool are in dire need of attention. Councilman David Mace responded that the slide project has been in the works for over two years and is being funded in part by a private grant.

The pool house issue has just recently come to light. The pool will be closing at 5:30 p.m. through Aug. 26. It will be closed during the week next week and will reopen for the three-day Labor Day weekend.

Council approved the purchase of a gas detector for the fire department. This will replace a 20-year-old piece of equipment that is outdated.

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