At an informational meeting on May 12, Wrightsville Borough Council President Eric J. White tried to convince residents that selling the town’s water system to a private company is a good idea.
About 35 people attended the meeting at John Wright Restaurant. White’s presentation included an enlarged copy of his water bill and comparisons of rates with York Water Co., a private company that provides water to 52 municipalities in York, Lancaster and Adams counties. J.T. Hand, the company’s CEO, also attended the meeting and spoke.
Council members Don Bair, Michael Gromling and Frederick C. Smith Jr., who is also chairman of the Wrightsville Municipal Authority, attended the meeting. Neither Bair nor Gromling spoke; Smith answered a few questions when addressed although mostly listened to the discussion.
Water rates are high, White said, because Wrightsville Municipal Authority has taken on several million dollars of debt to replace parts of its aging infrastructure. He is also concerned about possible state and federal mandates — preventing pollution of the Chesapeake Bay or removing dissolved plastics from water — that could require additional debt.
“Right now, we’re not broke,” he said. “We’re rolling along, but we’re paying for it.”
White said he has asked authority representatives what their plan is to address these issues, and he said they never give him one. After Borough Council passed a resolution in April strongly encouraging the authority to sell the water assets, authority Chairman Smith created a committee to study the issue for 90 days and come up with a plan and hold a public meeting about it in perhaps a year.
“I think it’s easier to do nothing and to kick the can down the road,” White said.
Residents at the meeting wanted to know why Borough Council and the authority are at “loggerheads” and said it seemed obvious from White’s presentation that water rates could be reduced.
In an interview after the meeting, Smith said selling the water assets is not a top priority right now for the authority because it has lots of “irons in the fire.” The authority is working on making improvements to the sewer plant, opening bids this week for replacing pipes on South Front Street and working on a project to upgrade intakes from the Susquehanna River.
Those projects will help increase the value of the assets, Smith said, and could help bring a better price if the authority decides to sell. He also said that preliminary information the authority has reviewed shows that privatizing a water company has short-term savings for customers and not always long-term savings.