You may have learned by now that Warminster Township is exploring the possibility of selling the Warminster Township Municipal Authority (WTMA) to interested bidders. The bidders will likely include privately owned water distribution companies such as AQUA America (AQUA).
WTMA, which has been servicing the residents of Warminster Township for more than 60 years, and has always prioritized the interests of its customers in maintaining relatively low rates while providing the highest quality water and sewer service. Your “best interests” could potentially become secondary if WTMA is sold.
A sale of WTMA should raise concerns on your part regarding water quality, rates and the loss of local control of your water and sewer services. Water quality is of paramount concern with the presence of PFOS/PFOA in the groundwater supply. When these unregulated chemicals were found in certain wells to be above health advisory levels, WTMA immediately shut these wells down and immediately took steps to compel the responsible party, the Navy, to pay for the cost of installing treatment systems on the effected wells. WTMA, however, was not satisfied with providing drinking water to its customers from wells which were below the limit. The locally controlled Board of WTMA, therefore, made the proactive decision to provide its customers with water that does not contain PFOS/PFOA from the Forest Park Water Plant (FPWP).
The cost to purchase water without PFOS/PFOA from FPWP caused an increase in your water bill. The WTMA Board determined that the increase was unavoidable, but justified as being in the best interest of your health and welfare. Prior to the rate increase, AQUA rates were 167% higher than WTMA rates. Today, even after the WTMA rate increase, AQUA rates are 87% higher for existing homes than WTMA rates. AQUA rates for a newly constructed home with a one-inch service line in Warminster would be 151% higher than current WTMA rates, based on the following comparison:
Water & Sewer Rate Comparison – Warminster vs AQUA
15,000 gallons/quarter usage
Warminster Charges AQUA Charges* Increase
5/8” meter $104.40 $195.59 $ 91.19
1” meter $114.40 $287.69 $173.29
Sewer $107.85 $237.75 $129.90
AQUA TOTAL YEARLY INCREASE 5/8” SERVICE $ 884.36
AQUA TOTAL YEARLY INCREASE 1” SERVICE $1,212.76
*Based upon published Public Utility Commission rates
WTMA services 10,300 customers annually. Some customers have 5/8” service lines while other customers have 1” service lines. The average increase in cost collectively to WTMA customers potentially will be $10,500,000 after a company like AQUA increases its rates.
The loss of local control of your water system will have important ramifications. The first is the loss of control of water standards. WTMA, until recently, has been the only provider of water at close to non-detect levels for PFOS/PFOA. In November, Warrington also began delivering water of the same quality. The other six surrounding municipalities are served by AQUA with levels of PFOS/PFOA up to 40 parts per trillion.
The second is the loss of control of rates. A municipal authority offers several unique advantages over private or investor-owned water companies in its ability to deliver essential public services such as water. A municipal authority is accountable to its customers. A privately-owned water company is accountable to its shareholders or investors. A municipal authority is non-profit; therefore, 100% of all revenues remain within the Authority for operations and system improvements. There is no profit motive, nor can Authority funds be used for other municipal services. Private water companies attempt to facilitate a sale by agreeing up front to a fixed period of time during which existing rates will not increase, only to dramatically increase rates after the expiration of the fixed period.
The third is the loss of control of system improvements. WTMA has been and continues to be aggressive replacing aging infrastructure, water and sewer mains, pumping stations, emergency back-up systems, valves and hydrants, all to better service you, the customer.
There is no assurance that the water standards, rates and system improvements which have been the hallmarks of WTMA, will continue if the control of your water system is placed in the hands of a privately-owned company. If the prospect of paying such dramatically higher rates coupled with the loss of local control and water quality concerns you, please contact your Warminster Township Supervisors to express your concern.