Bills Impacting Authorities
Bills dealing with public meeting requirements of municipal authorities and municipalities when considering acquisitions, leases, and sales of water or sewer systems:
HB 477 (Harper) – reintroduced from last session, the bill provides for public notice and public meeting requirements of a municipality prior to entering into an agreement to sell or lease of a sewer or water system owned or operated by a municipal authority or a municipality. Specifically, the municipality is required to hold at least one publically advertised meeting to discuss the potential sale or lease and the potential purchaser or lessee is required to attend the public meeting. Notice of the public meeting must be published once a week for two consecutive weeks before the meeting. The notice also must be posted not more than 60 days nor fewer than seven days prior to agreeing to the sale or lease of the water or sewer system.
The bill was unanimously reported from the House Local Government committee at which Chairman Harper noted that in her area of the state a lot of entities are considering the sale of their water and sewer systems to larger systems, and that can result in changes for users, like increases in rates. She said the bill would let people know such changes "are in the offing" and give them a chance to talk to their elected officials about it. PMAA supports the bill.
HB 104 (Godshall) - this bill, which was also introduced last session, addresses municipal authority acquisitions and sales. It requires authorities to hold an advertised public meeting and discuss the details and anticipated or projected public benefits at a public meeting, and retain written minutes with the details. Public benefit in the bill is defined as rate reduction, improved service quality, improved service reliability or other clearly defined benefit to a ratepayer of the authority. PMAA supports the bill and believes that an open public meeting to discuss acquisitions or sales of public water and sewer utilities presents customers the opportunity to be informed about changes in utility ownership, service, rates, and responsibilities.
PMAA was able to have an amendment added to the bill last session and that amendment remains in the current version of the bill which extends the time requirement for submission of authorities’ annual financial report to the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). No matter when an authority’s fiscal year ends, it has 180 days to submit the report to DCED. The report must also be posted on the authority’s website, and those authorities without a website must share it electronically or other means with the municipality(ies) the authority serves.
HB 791 (Davis) – the bill requires municipalities to hold public hearings prior to the sale or acquisition of water and sewer infrastructure. It also requires municipalities to allow for public comment during a meeting concerning the sale of such infrastructure. Finally, ratepayers are to be notified on their billing statement prior to a public meeting regarding such a sale.
Bills providing for public funds to pay for private water and sewer laterals:
Public Funds for Private Sewer Laterals
SB 334 (Fontana) allows authorities and local governments the option to use public funds for the repair or extension of private lateral sewer lines if it is determined that it will benefit public health, the sewer system or will prevent damages to public property. The authority or local government would decide if they want to designate public funding for such a cause and determine the guidelines for eligibility for such a program.
The bill was introduced to help sewer customers with repairs of sewer lines and reduce inflow and infiltration into the sewer system. No authority or municipality shall be deemed to be the owner of the private lateral sewer line unless they make an affirmative determination to accept such obligations.
Pennvest Funding for Private Water and Sewer Laterals
SB 639 (Fontana) – amends the PA Infrastructure Investment Authority Act (PENNVEST) to provide financial assistance to authorities and municipalities for the repair, replacement, extension of private lateral water lines and private lateral sewer lines. The authority or municipality determines if the water or sewer system will benefit from such activities and they shall not be deemed the owner of the private water or sewer line or have further responsibility unless they choose to accept those obligations.
Public Funds for Private Water Laterals with Lead
SB 656 (Fontana) – amending the Municipality Authorities Act, this bill allows authorities to use public funds to repair and replace lead contaminated private lateral water lines if they pose a threat to the public health or safety. The legislation does not force any authority to participate and gives the authority discretion to designate public funding for such a cause and to also determine the guidelines for eligibility for such a program.
Bills Amending the Municipality Authorities Act
SB 114 (Eichelberger) – this bill is reintroduced and enables a sewer authority to terminate sewer service to commercial customers who are seriously delinquent (at least six months) in payment of sewer bills. The bill authorizes an authority to obtain a court order allowing it to terminate sewer service. The bill would provide for additional notices to the owner and health departments of the date that service would be terminated.
HB 1269 (Quigley) – the bill amends the section of the Municipality Authorities Act dealing with tapping fees. For authorities that serve five or more municipalities, they are provided a five year extension for future facilities that have not been placed into service. Currently the Municipality Authorities Act provides 15 years. This bill would increase it to 20 years.
HB 1034 (Mako) – establishes financial best practices by requiring money due to the authority be deposited in an account with a designated depository and shall be remitted in the name of the authority or designated recipient and shall not include the name of an individual including the treasurer of the authority. It also outlines broad procedures for the collection and handling of money allowing authorities flexibility in setting their own specific policies and procedures.
PMAA was also successful in having the language added to this bill extending the time requirement for submission of an authority’s annual financial report as 180 days from whenever the authority’s fiscal year ends.
HB 1188 (Topper) – this bill amends Section 5612 (a.1) of the Act dealing with money of the authority to be used strictly for the purpose of the authority. Specifically, the bill prohibits money of an authority from being used for any gift or monetary bonus. This was introduced due to an authority providing bonuses to non-authority employees throughout the municipality.
SB 597 (Stefano) – reintroduced from last session, this bill authorizes the Auditor General to conduct audits of municipal authorities.
HB 798 (Davis) – reintroduced from last session, this bill amends the Public Utility Code by placing water and sewer authorities under the jurisdiction of the PUC.