Harmony resident Jim Petroff said he is angry his sewage fees are higher and said he isn’t the only resident who is upset. He brought an old bill to compare with his new bill, which shows an $84 increase for the year.
“This is highway robbery gentlemen, it really is,” he said.
Charges were filed last month against former secretary Lyla Swan, who is accused of stealing more than $190,000 from the township over the course of eight years.
Resident Robyn Walker called the stolen money “the elephant in the room” that wasn't being addressed.
“They say it has nothing to do with the increases in the sewage, however, it looks bad,” she said. “It looks like the $190,000 is just thrown out the window.”
Resident Jesse Ault agreed and asked what is being done to prevent a repeat situation.
Solicitor Richard Start said the district attorney’s office has advised township officials not to comment on the pending criminal case because it could prejudice the prosecution.
“I do understand, but I just hope you understand that we can’t say anything right now,” Start said.
Asked whether Harmony was bonded, Start did say there is some insurance coverage, but wouldn't comment further on the matter or a question about the past auditors.
“I’m not getting into that until this process is over. I wish we could. We can’t,” Start said.
Municipal Authority Chairman William Gandjos explained that until this year, the last fee increase put into effect was in October 2011, when rates went up $5 per month.
This year, rates went up $7 a month across the board and those who were on bi-monthly billing were converted to the quarterly system to save on postage, he said.
Gandjos said Harmony has sewer lines that run into three different municipalities. Of the township’s 1,421 customers, 42.6 percent have Ambridge, 54.5 percent Baden and 3 percent Leet Township.
The communities likely have different maintenance costs and debt payments on past sewer projects. Baden updated its plant about a decade ago and Ambridge’s debt service has also gone up, he said.
“We are just a carrier," Gandjos said "We get hit by their sewage rate increases automatically…We’re held captive because it goes three different places.”
He said Harmony’s expenses to Ambridge this year are $371,000, about 63.8 percent. Ambridge has had two increases over the past two years that were not passed onto Harmony customers, he said.
Meanwhile, he said the Harmony Municipal Authority account has not had a reserve for the past couple of years. The Ambridge Authority in comparison has more than $500,000 reserved in case something major happens and Leet Township has more than $212,000, he said.
“We have zero,” he said.
Gandjos said the authority is looking to eventually base rates on usage up to 3,000 gallons "so it’ll be much fairer to everybody across the board.”
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