The Warminster Municipal Authority (WMA) met on Monday, September 14 in an outside and socially distanced regular monthly meeting. In addition to the 5 board members, in attendance were the Authority’s solicitor, engineering consultant, the WMA GM and one staff member, as well as about 15 members of the public. The big topic at this meeting was the agreement between the WMA and Warminster township regarding the sale of the township stormwater system to the WMA.
Before we go over the deal and some of the questions that were asked, let me explain the purpose of the WMA. Their mission is to deliver clean water to their customers and take away wastewater. Storm water is neither. Wastewater is the water that exits your house through your drains (sinks, shower, toilets, etc.) and it collected by the WMA in their treatment plants before it is returned to your home or business as clean water. Stormwater is mostly rainwater that falls from the sky and is dispersed into the local waterways, via storm drains, after sediment is removed from it. An important note here is that wastewater and storm water are two different animals.
Currently, the township manages the stormwater system, or more accurately, the township reacts to emergencies in the stormwater system. They will clear any blockages or repair any part of the system that fails or is damaged. There really hasn’t been much to maintain in the system lately, but that’s about to change as unfunded federal mandates, which were enacted as part of the Obama/Biden administration, requires significant upgrades to the systems of many towns in many states, including Warminster. It was estimated by the township that these improvements would cost about $5 million, which the township claims it does not have. In addition, the township claims that they do not have the expertise to provide these improvements. As a result, the township and the WMA have entered into an agreement for the WMA to take ownership of the stormwater system for Warminster.
So, it seems as though the WMA taking over ownership of the stormwater system is a huge benefit for the township, but not so much for the WMA. Even though there is no financial advantage for the WMA to purchase the system from the township, the WMA will pay for this privilege, or should I say the ratepayers of the township will pay for this. The WMA and the township have agreed for the WMA to pay the township $6 million to purchase the system. When asked why the WMA would pay for the system, as opposed to the township just turning over the system to the WMA (after all, the township still owns the WMA), it was suggested that this is a way to inject some cash into the financially troubled township. Let me restate this a better way. The township is selling an asset to an authority that the township owns so the authority can send cash back to the township. As a result of this transaction, the WMA will impose a fee, better known as a “rain tax,” that each ratepayer will be responsible for, effectively making the WMA a taxing vehicle for the township. When asked how much this charge will be to the ratepayers, the response was, “we haven’t looked into this yet.” Seriously?!! The WMA will pay $6 million for a system that they have not valued, and they do not know how this will financially impact their customers? Something does not smell right about this backroom deal. In addition to the premium we pay for water that we receive from North Wales and the surcharges we pay for both water and sewer; we’ll soon have to pay a tax for the rain that falls from the sky.
The matter was approved by the 5 member WMA board by a vote of 3-1, with Ken Hayes abstaining due to his conflict of interest of being the chair of the Warminster Board of Supervisors.
We will share more information on what this will cost the WMA ratepayers of the township as soon as more light is shone on this deal. In the meantime, hold onto your wallets because that hand you’re about to feel in your pocket belongs to the township.