Paying off debt, fixing roads and creating a fund to help keep taxes lower are among the many possible uses for the $53 million Lower Makefield Township expects to get from the sale of its sewer system.
The sale to Aqua Pennsylvania was approved by the township supervisors in August. It also requires approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission, and supporters of the deal hope that is granted and the sale can proceed to a formal closing sometime in the fourth quarter of this year.
At the May 5 virtual supervisors’ meeting, board members held the first of what will likely be many discussions on what to do with the proceeds from the sale.
“There are a lot of considerations,” supervisor Chairwoman Suzanne Blundi said. She voted in favor of the sale in August along with fellow board members James McCartney and Fredric Weiss. John Lewis voted no, and Daniel Grenier abstained.
“We have to be as thoughtful and contemplative as possible going forward, if the sale goes through,” Blundi continued.
Grenier said every possible use for the sale proceeds should be carefully analyzed, and also urged that officials gather extensive input from residents.
“This isn’t a referendum issue, but it would be very interesting to see what our very creative community has to say about this,” he said. “I want to hear from the community, whether that’s by email, public comment during meetings or at the grocery store.”
Under one scenario presented by township Manager Kurt Ferguson, paying off the combined debt on the sewer system and the township-owned golf course, Makefield Highlands, would cost about $27.5 million and leave the balance of the proceeds for other uses, including possible capital projects.
Among other ideas for the sale money are creating a kind of trust fund and using the interest to help keep property taxes lower, and creating a similar fund that would help hold down sewer rate increases.
Grenier said one of his concerns with the possible sewer fund was that once it was depleted, sewer customers might have to absorb much higher rate increases.
To the consternation of Blundi, Lewis used much of his time during the May 5 discussion to again criticize the sale, calling it the “single worst policy decision by the board of supervisors in the last 30 years.”
Blundi at several points tried to steer Lewis back to talking about how to use the sale proceeds instead of revisiting the deal’s merits.
“That’s the agenda item tonight,” Blundi said. “You’re the only one who wants to keep talking about whether the sale was a good or bad idea.”
Lewis responded that he felt his points were relevant since the sale hasn’t been finalized yet. He added that study needs to be done on how much township debt it would be wise to pay off. Ferguson said retiring the sewer debt is a requirement of the sale.
Lewis also said the township needs to find out if there are any legal restrictions on how the sale proceeds can be invested.
Solicitor David Truelove said he would find out and get back to the supervisors soon.
“The $53 million we are going to get totally changes the outlook of this township,” Weiss said. “My idea is we use it to protect the (sewer) ratepayers first, then protect the taxpayers, and after that increase township services to make the township a better place. We will reap the benefits for years to come.”