ROULETTE — Roulette residents and landlords voiced their concerns about a new water fee that was implemented beginning with this month’s bill.
The vacant lot fee, which was passed as part of a resolution at the December meeting, is a $30 monthly fee for any vacant property that is still connected to the sewer and water. It was implemented as a way to help increase the water and sewer revenue, which has been running on a tight budget, Supervisor Jeremy Morey said during the meeting.
Karen Johnson, who owns lots in Roulette, said it didn’t seem logical to punish property owners. Johnson requested they have someone disconnect the water and sewer from any current vacant lots she may have to avoid the monthly fee, but that would just cause a tap-in fee of $800 when it needed to be reconnected.
Jeff Fessenden said he has 10 vacant lots.
“That’s $3,600 in a year for me to just give you guys,” Fessenden said. He pointed out the sewer bill rates were just increased. Morey said those rates would probably be increased again this year.
“So in turn, what we will do, is we’ll raise our rent to the people that are already renting from us and punish them also, because somebody has to pick up that difference,” Johnson said. She and Fessenden both agreed that would likely drive people out of town.
“You’re basically asking me now to upfront a whole lot’s rent for the month,” Fessenden said. “You’re out of your mind.” He said that would be $300-500 a month for basically nothing.
Township secretary and treasurer Nita Spencer said there are currently 70 vacant lots.
After about 20 minutes of public comment, the supervisors, Morey, Brian Drabert and Jim Ostrom, voted to put this month’s fee on hold and hold a workshop to discuss this topic further. That public work session will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24, at the township building.
Theresa Welsh, of Coudersport, attended the meeting to inquire about Aqua Pennsylvania, an Aqua America subsidiary, potentially purchasing Roulette’s water system. Morey said there has not been an offer made. Welsh cautioned the supervisors against going through with any sale and gave them multiple pages of violations from the EPA.
Morey said there isn’t a big push to have this sale go through. He said he approached Aqua Pennsylvania at a convention last year to inquire about a possible sale and see if they would be interested in it. He said he hasn’t spoken with any other operators, though they might if Aqua Pennsylvania doesn’t work out.
Morey said the reason behind this is mostly because operating costs are high.
“What is happening throughout the commonwealth, is the municipal-owned utilities, like water and sewer, they hold the rates artificially low because they want to benefit the residents. Well, prices for maintenance, for chemicals, for operation, continuously go up,” Morey said. “Well, the rates are still down here. Then, when something does go wrong, there’s no capital reserve, there’s nothing in the budget to fix it.”
“So then, what (the municipalities) have to do is take out a loan,” Morey said. He said the township is currently $2.5 million in debt from loans and has been told they can’t take out any more loans. Therefore, if something happens to the sewer plant, for example, taxes and rates will go through the roof.
“We really ... don’t have the expertise to run a sophisticated system like this,” Morey said. He said they’ve asked other authorities if they’d be interested in absorbing the operation of the system but there have been no takers.
Morey said there would be a public meeting at the firehall if there is a pending sale.
The township supervisors moved to pay bills, except for a $2,244 invoice from Nittany Engineering for the PennDOT project. Morey said he wanted a meeting on the project, as they just get bills but don’t see any progress or updates. The project in discussion is Train 1, updating a sewer project.
Morey said he wanted to look at making a “meth house ordinance,” similar to what Williamsport has. He said there are some “meth houses” that are condemnable at the moment.
The supervisors approved a four cent increase, up to $0.58/mile, for mileage reimbursement for employees.
The next Roulette township meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14.