WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A controversy is unfolding in the city of Wilkes-Barre involving the city’s sewer system.
Mayor Tony George has proposed selling or leasing the system to raise much-needed revenues for the financially strapped city. But the proposal has raised concerns among residents, council members, and the incoming mayor. The biggest concern Eyewitness News is hearing about this proposal is how will it impact sewer bills for property owners.
‘That’s bad big time. They shouldn’t do that because the rates are going to really climb,” Karl Milcavage of Wilkes-Barre said.
And Eyewitness News heard that over and over again from Wilkes-Barre residents regarding talk of a possible sale or lease of the city’s sewer system. Mayor Tony George proposed the idea when he unveiled his 2020 budget plan in October.
Several months ago, he says the sale or lease could raise anywhere between $20 million and $75 million. Much of that money would be used to shore up the city’s five underfunded pension accounts. But taxpayers like Karl and Marilyn Milcavage have serious doubts and lots of questions about the idea.
“Where’s the guarantee it’s going to help? You don’t mind paying for services when you get value for those services but living in the city 30-plus years I don’t see it,” Marilyn Milcavage said.
“Our concern Andy is what’s the cost for the residents? Are the costs going to increase?” Wilkes-Barre Council chairman Mike Belusko said.
Belusko says council, which has the final say on any possible sale or lease, wants to see all of the numbers before making any decision.
“Our early maintenance fee is $50. How much will that go up and much money will they be willing to give the city of Wilkes-Barre,” Belusko said.
Mayor-elect George Brown will take office in January. He’s not sold on the proposal. A financial consulting firm hired by the city will present options to the city council and the public at a meeting in January.
“I want to hear the benefits and negatives because I have not been privy to that information wither,” Brown said.
There’s also talk about the city creating its own sewer authority. A public meeting will be held on the possible sale or lease of the sewer system in January.
In fact, that meeting was supposed to be held Tuesday night, but was cancelled because the city council wanted to wait until Brown takes office to discuss the proposal. A date has not been set for that meeting.
City officials say at least two water companies have expressed an interest in buying the city sewer system. The public utility commission would have to give approval to any purchase or lease.