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January 24, 2013

Talk of the township

Sewer woes spur some to action

SHENANGO TOWNSHIP —

Come fall, Shenango Township residents may have a choice about who represents them as township supervisors.

But those who now hold the job told prospective opponents the township doesn’t have much choice but to proceed with sewer system upgrades that are mandated by the state.

The opponents are Democrats Jeff Besco, 62, Besco Drive, Ken Wilson, 68, Besco Drive, and Terrence Walters, 64, Mabel Drive.

They organized a public powwow Wednesday night at the Shenango Township Fire Hall that resembled a “town hall” meeting, and for more than two hours about 30 residents aired concerns about the township and its sewer system.

Supervisors Tom Hubert, Dennis DeSilvey, Dave Garrett and Carol Budanka also attended the meeting, which was loosely moderated by Besco.

“We feel it (the way supervisors have handled sewer issues) is not proper,” Besco said. “We want to take action to defend the people.”

At issue is a state-mandated sewage plan that binds the township to make about $18 million in improvements that include updates to the treatment plant and some lines by 2018.

Paying for those improvements may cost sewer customers an extra $77 a month on top of the $57 they now pay. Those who need to tap in to the system will have to pony up an additional fee of about $1,000.

Those unaffected by the improvements may have to put in pricey new on-lot systems if their current systems fail the mandated test.

“This is ridiculous. This is not fair to the people of Shenango Township,” Besco said.

It may not be fair, but it’s required by the state and there’s nothing the township can do about it, the present slate of supervisors said.

The problem has been in the making since at least 2006, when the state Department of Environmental Protection became aware of failing private septic systems and an outdated plan for the public sewer system.

Since then, there have been several changes in the leadership of the township and its advisers that have delayed action about the problems.

“We’re common folk. It took time for people to understand what’s going on,” Hubert said.

Last year, the DEP threatened to fine the township if action wasn’t taken and now officials are in the process of planning how the project will be paid for, Hubert explained.

“It got to the point where the state said ‘Do it!’,” Hubert said.

It isn’t pretty and could result in $135 sewer bills, but that’s a “worst-case” scenario, he said.

The township is trying to get grants and low-interest loans and otherwise work with the DEP to keep rates from ballooning.

“We’re trying to protect you people, not hurt you,” Garrett said.

There are three seats up for grabs this year, the ones held by Garrett, Budanka and Keenie Harrison, who wasn’t at the meeting Wednesday.

According to Jeff Greenburg, the county’s director of elections, candidates can pick up informational packets with the petition and general filing instructions beginning Feb. 13 in the elections office in the courthouse.

The first day to circulate the petition and collect the needed signatures is Feb. 19. The last day is March 19. Municipal offices generally require 10 signatures on a petition to get on the ballot.

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