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Water and sewer upgrades are planned

Published February 21. 2013 05:03PM

The water and sewer systems in the borough of Tamaqua are aging and in need of upgrades and replacements.

"Basically, we have a whole bunch of projects that are at their 20-year life span," said Councilman Brian Connely, who is also chairman of the Tamaqua sewer and water authorities. Connely explained there are many parts of the systems that are older and out of date and are not only breaking down, but workers are having a hard time securing replacement parts due to the age of the systems.

Connely said the authorities have looked into some financing options for the proposed projects and they are proposing to take a 20- to 25-year bond to pay for the projects. In order to help finance the bond issue, the authorities are proposing to raise rates.

"We haven't had a rate increase since 2008," said Connely. "We're operating on a shoestring budget and we're not getting ahead."

He is anticipating that rates would increase about $12 a quarter for residential properties.

Connely said that the improvements and upgrades would last for the duration of the bond.

"This isn't like we're buying a vehicle that's going to last seven years and we're still paying for 20," he said. "We are talking long-term infrastructure improvements."

Other proposed changes to the borough's currently handling of the water and sewer billing would be to reduce the payment time to 20 days. Currently, bills are due 30 days after they are received.

"You're printing next month's bills while you're still accepting the current month's bills," explained Connely, "which may lead to the unnecessary calculation of delinquency fees."

Councilman Tom Cara questioned whether or not this was a good idea, as people are used to paying their bills at the end of the month. Borough manager Kevin Steigerwalt said the schedule could be adjusted so that the bills were still due by the same time.

Connely also explained that the authorities are proposing to participate in an energy curtailment program. At any point between June and September, in the event of a large demand for electricity being placed on the grid, the water and sewer plants may be asked to run on generator power to lower consumption. Connely said that the plants usually run their generators weekly to test them anyway, and this program would just pay the borough to do what they are already doing.

The authorities could stand to make close to $10,000 in one season by participating in the program. Connely said that there is no cost to the borough to participate in the program, and if the shutdowns are not needed, the borough will not lose anything.

The sewer authority is also working on a new fee schedule for accepting hauled waste. According to council President Micah Gursky, the Tamaqua sewer plant has a lot of additional capacity, due to the losses of major clients like Morgan's over the last few years. Gursky suggested that even though the borough has had this program in place since 2004, the rates the authority had set were high compared to other communities. The proposed fee schedule brings Tamaqua in line with other communities.

"This is just another way to bring money into the borough," said Connely.

Other business

In other business, council responded to a request from attorney Dirk Berger, who represents BET Associates, the owners of Lehigh Coal and Navigation.

The company is requesting that the borough support their request to have their land, which is mostly zoned as G1 and G2, under the Eastern Schuylkill Plan, also considered for the placement of alternative energy sources, like windmills or solar farms. According to Gursky, there were recently significant changes made to the plan, however, these changes were not included. Council will submit the request again.

Council also approved the receipt of a $60,000 grant from the Morgan Foundation for the operation of the H.D. Buehler Memorial pool for the 2013 season and moved to advertise for summer pool staff.

Gursky also requested that in support of the initiative to raise awareness of domestic and sexual abuse, "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes," that members of borough council plan to wear women's shoes to the March council meeting.

"This is a light-hearted way to bring attention to a very serious issue," he said.

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